The Americas Blog

El Blog de las Americas

The Americas Blog seeks to present a more accurate perspective on economic and political developments in the Western Hemisphere than is often presented in the United States. It will provide information that is often ignored, buried, and sometimes misreported in the major U.S. media.

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If the Biden administration is serious about tackling the root causes of forced migration in Central America and genuinely wants to support constitutional democracy in the region, then it should recognize the end of the ZEDEs as a positive step forward.
If the Biden administration is serious about tackling the root causes of forced migration in Central America and genuinely wants to support constitutional democracy in the region, then it should recognize the end of the ZEDEs as a positive step forward.
With just days left before Brazilians head to the polls to decide the political future of their country, the use of social media by political elites to manipulate elections is again in full swing.
With just days left before Brazilians head to the polls to decide the political future of their country, the use of social media by political elites to manipulate elections is again in full swing.
The failure of the OAS to explain false claims of fraud it made during the Bolivian elections in 2019 continues to fuel doubts about its ability to monitor elections fairly and objectively.
The failure of the OAS to explain false claims of fraud it made during the Bolivian elections in 2019 continues to fuel doubts about its ability to monitor elections fairly and objectively.

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The global economy has suffered several shocks since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. These include lingering supply constraints from fallout of the pandemic as well as those from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both of which added pressure to prices around the world. On top of this, speculation in commodity markets has led to significantly higher oil prices, and thus higher prices at the pump and for many goods and services. 

Higher energy prices are a significant political problem for US president Joe Biden and many other world leaders, who face strikes and protests. One way world leaders might seek to lower prices is work to increase the global supply of oil. Biden especially has a significant opportunity in his hands to boost global production by breaking with Trump’s failed “maximum pressure” campaigns, and ending unilateral — and likely illegal — sanctions against Iran and Venezuela. These potential increases in oil production amount to about 2.6 million extra barrels per day, which dwarfs increases Biden is likely to get directly from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the cartel that coordinates oil production in many countries.

To show the potential benefits of abandoning the Trump administration’s failed policies toward Venezuela and Iran, it is useful to compare their potential oil production to that from OPEC Plus, an expanded and loosely organized group of oil-producing countries. Biden, along with other world leaders, have been extensively lobbying OPEC Plus to increase production. A recent announcement from the group included an agreement to accelerate planned increases in oil production for July and August. For these months, the total production increase will now be 648,000 barrels per day — but this does not represent a new commitment to increase total supply. Rather, increases scheduled for over three months have been condensed into two months, meaning that production levels in July and August will be about 200,000 barrels above what they would have been. The increase represents 0.4 percent of global demand for these months.

While the Biden administration welcomed the announcement, it was careful to officially attribute the need for the increase to reasons that OPEC Plus itself cited — “reopening from lockdowns in major global economic centers” — and not to recent and extensive US diplomatic pressure on OPEC Plus to increase supply, including a planned visit to Saudi Arabia by President Biden. The United States nevertheless insisted that it “will continue to use all tools at [its] disposal” to increase production and lower gasoline prices. Reporting on the announcement, meanwhile, directly attributed the OPEC Plus decision to pressure from the Biden administration and other governments, although the discussion of the increase among OPEC Plus members took only 11 minutes, suggesting that the cartel did not view the change as significant.

If the Biden administration is indeed prioritizing lower gasoline prices, one “tool” it has at its disposal is its own policies toward Iran and Venezuela. To date, the Biden administration has not meaningfully broken with Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaigns on either country. Like many other sanctions regimes, these campaigns did not achieve their stated political goals and are widely regarded as failures by experts. Trump’s strategy also provoked a strong response from the international community. The sanctions on Venezuela are opposed by many other governments in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as by opposition movements in Venezuela itself; the withdrawal from the so-called “Iran Deal” by the Trump administration in May 2018 was regarded as catastrophic by many US allies in Europe. 

What Trump’s maximum pressure campaigns did achieve were precipitous declines in oil production in both countries, as can been seen in data from January 2017 to today. Throughout 2017, Iran’s oil production was relatively stable, peaking at 3,835,000 barrels per day in September. It started falling significantly after the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran Deal, reaching a low of 1,930,000 barrels per day in July 2020, when oil prices fell sharply during the pandemic. Production has recovered somewhat, with the most recent data showing output of 2,544,000 barrels per day, or about 66 percent of the 2017 peak.

Venezuela’s production fell gradually from a high of 2,007,000 barrels per day in January 2017 until 2019, mainly due to effects from US sanctions in August 2017 and lower oil prices. Trump’s decision in late January 2019 to increase sanctions on Venezuela, and to no longer recognize the elected government of Nicolás Maduro, led to a sharp decline in production, which was further compounded with secondary sanctions in February 2020. Production reached a low of 337,000 barrels per day in June 2020, during the pandemic. Since then, levels have increased to 717,000 barrels per day — only about 36 percent of what they were in January 2017.

With both Iran and Venezuela producing far below their recent potential, a shift in US policy would likely garner significant increases in the world supply of oil. In the medium-term, this would probably result in a faster return to lower gasoline prices in the United States, perhaps in a 12–24 month time frame. Venezuelan oil in particular has logistical advantages for the United States: geographically, it is relatively close to the US mainland, and some US refineries are designed to process Venezuela’s heavy crude. Had President Biden abandoned Trump’s failed maximum pressure strategy in May 2021, when average US gasoline prices breached $3.00 per gallon, it is possible that Americans would be seeing lower gas prices at the pump. 

It is instructive to compare the acceleration of the OPEC Plus boost in supply to the increases that could have resulted from a return to pre-“maximum pressure” levels of production in Iran and Venezuela. Changes in US policies toward these countries could result in an increase double that announced by OPEC Plus for July and August — nearly 2,600,000 barrels per day, versus 1,300,000. Increased production from Venezuela and Iran also is significantly larger than the drop in Russian oil production since the invasion of Ukraine, which amounts to a loss of about 850,000 barrels per day.

This is admittedly a simple comparison. Venezuela and Iran would likely need to negotiate production increases with OPEC, which both countries are members of, after they reach a certain level of production (they are currently exempt from quotas). Two factors suggest that increased oil production from either country would be welcomed in the short- and medium-term: one, it is unclear if OPEC Plus will be able to achieve even the recent boost in production, with some analysts predicting only half of the increase in July and August being met; and two, governments, including the United States, seem to view increased production from Venezuela and Iran in this time frame as possible. 

And while the US has had to extensively lobby OPEC members (especially Saudi Arabia) for the OPEC Plus supply increase, it is in control of its own policies toward Iran and Venezuela. (In addition, OPEC Plus includes Russia, which must agree to any increases. It is unlikely that Russia would share President Biden’s concerns about high energy prices in the United States.) Although President Biden seems to have considered rapprochement with both Iran and Venezuela, these efforts have yet to result in significant deviations from the Trump playbook (although there have been some small, positive developments). A concerted effort to move away from Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy could bring significant political benefits for Biden in the form of lower prices for gas and for goods and services more broadly, and allow for more political space to manage gas prices in a way consistent with an aggressive climate policy. These are the types of policy adjustments the Biden administration should embrace, especially if it is not willing to meaningfully address ongoing pandemic-related supply chain issues or to seek a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine — both major factors behind soaring food and energy prices.

More importantly, in addition to causing significant economic harm to Iran, Venezuela, and now the United States itself, the Trump policies that Biden is choosing to enforce have likely led to tens of thousands of civilian deaths — and to much untold misery. This is a catastrophe, and unilateral sanctions are illegal under international law, as they amount to collective punishment. It’s time for a reset.

The global economy has suffered several shocks since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. These include lingering supply constraints from fallout of the pandemic as well as those from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both of which added pressure to prices around the world. On top of this, speculation in commodity markets has led to significantly higher oil prices, and thus higher prices at the pump and for many goods and services. 

Higher energy prices are a significant political problem for US president Joe Biden and many other world leaders, who face strikes and protests. One way world leaders might seek to lower prices is work to increase the global supply of oil. Biden especially has a significant opportunity in his hands to boost global production by breaking with Trump’s failed “maximum pressure” campaigns, and ending unilateral — and likely illegal — sanctions against Iran and Venezuela. These potential increases in oil production amount to about 2.6 million extra barrels per day, which dwarfs increases Biden is likely to get directly from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the cartel that coordinates oil production in many countries.

To show the potential benefits of abandoning the Trump administration’s failed policies toward Venezuela and Iran, it is useful to compare their potential oil production to that from OPEC Plus, an expanded and loosely organized group of oil-producing countries. Biden, along with other world leaders, have been extensively lobbying OPEC Plus to increase production. A recent announcement from the group included an agreement to accelerate planned increases in oil production for July and August. For these months, the total production increase will now be 648,000 barrels per day — but this does not represent a new commitment to increase total supply. Rather, increases scheduled for over three months have been condensed into two months, meaning that production levels in July and August will be about 200,000 barrels above what they would have been. The increase represents 0.4 percent of global demand for these months.

While the Biden administration welcomed the announcement, it was careful to officially attribute the need for the increase to reasons that OPEC Plus itself cited — “reopening from lockdowns in major global economic centers” — and not to recent and extensive US diplomatic pressure on OPEC Plus to increase supply, including a planned visit to Saudi Arabia by President Biden. The United States nevertheless insisted that it “will continue to use all tools at [its] disposal” to increase production and lower gasoline prices. Reporting on the announcement, meanwhile, directly attributed the OPEC Plus decision to pressure from the Biden administration and other governments, although the discussion of the increase among OPEC Plus members took only 11 minutes, suggesting that the cartel did not view the change as significant.

If the Biden administration is indeed prioritizing lower gasoline prices, one “tool” it has at its disposal is its own policies toward Iran and Venezuela. To date, the Biden administration has not meaningfully broken with Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaigns on either country. Like many other sanctions regimes, these campaigns did not achieve their stated political goals and are widely regarded as failures by experts. Trump’s strategy also provoked a strong response from the international community. The sanctions on Venezuela are opposed by many other governments in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as by opposition movements in Venezuela itself; the withdrawal from the so-called “Iran Deal” by the Trump administration in May 2018 was regarded as catastrophic by many US allies in Europe. 

What Trump’s maximum pressure campaigns did achieve were precipitous declines in oil production in both countries, as can been seen in data from January 2017 to today. Throughout 2017, Iran’s oil production was relatively stable, peaking at 3,835,000 barrels per day in September. It started falling significantly after the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Iran Deal, reaching a low of 1,930,000 barrels per day in July 2020, when oil prices fell sharply during the pandemic. Production has recovered somewhat, with the most recent data showing output of 2,544,000 barrels per day, or about 66 percent of the 2017 peak.

Venezuela’s production fell gradually from a high of 2,007,000 barrels per day in January 2017 until 2019, mainly due to effects from US sanctions in August 2017 and lower oil prices. Trump’s decision in late January 2019 to increase sanctions on Venezuela, and to no longer recognize the elected government of Nicolás Maduro, led to a sharp decline in production, which was further compounded with secondary sanctions in February 2020. Production reached a low of 337,000 barrels per day in June 2020, during the pandemic. Since then, levels have increased to 717,000 barrels per day — only about 36 percent of what they were in January 2017.

With both Iran and Venezuela producing far below their recent potential, a shift in US policy would likely garner significant increases in the world supply of oil. In the medium-term, this would probably result in a faster return to lower gasoline prices in the United States, perhaps in a 12–24 month time frame. Venezuelan oil in particular has logistical advantages for the United States: geographically, it is relatively close to the US mainland, and some US refineries are designed to process Venezuela’s heavy crude. Had President Biden abandoned Trump’s failed maximum pressure strategy in May 2021, when average US gasoline prices breached $3.00 per gallon, it is possible that Americans would be seeing lower gas prices at the pump. 

It is instructive to compare the acceleration of the OPEC Plus boost in supply to the increases that could have resulted from a return to pre-“maximum pressure” levels of production in Iran and Venezuela. Changes in US policies toward these countries could result in an increase double that announced by OPEC Plus for July and August — nearly 2,600,000 barrels per day, versus 1,300,000. Increased production from Venezuela and Iran also is significantly larger than the drop in Russian oil production since the invasion of Ukraine, which amounts to a loss of about 850,000 barrels per day.

This is admittedly a simple comparison. Venezuela and Iran would likely need to negotiate production increases with OPEC, which both countries are members of, after they reach a certain level of production (they are currently exempt from quotas). Two factors suggest that increased oil production from either country would be welcomed in the short- and medium-term: one, it is unclear if OPEC Plus will be able to achieve even the recent boost in production, with some analysts predicting only half of the increase in July and August being met; and two, governments, including the United States, seem to view increased production from Venezuela and Iran in this time frame as possible. 

And while the US has had to extensively lobby OPEC members (especially Saudi Arabia) for the OPEC Plus supply increase, it is in control of its own policies toward Iran and Venezuela. (In addition, OPEC Plus includes Russia, which must agree to any increases. It is unlikely that Russia would share President Biden’s concerns about high energy prices in the United States.) Although President Biden seems to have considered rapprochement with both Iran and Venezuela, these efforts have yet to result in significant deviations from the Trump playbook (although there have been some small, positive developments). A concerted effort to move away from Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy could bring significant political benefits for Biden in the form of lower prices for gas and for goods and services more broadly, and allow for more political space to manage gas prices in a way consistent with an aggressive climate policy. These are the types of policy adjustments the Biden administration should embrace, especially if it is not willing to meaningfully address ongoing pandemic-related supply chain issues or to seek a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine — both major factors behind soaring food and energy prices.

More importantly, in addition to causing significant economic harm to Iran, Venezuela, and now the United States itself, the Trump policies that Biden is choosing to enforce have likely led to tens of thousands of civilian deaths — and to much untold misery. This is a catastrophe, and unilateral sanctions are illegal under international law, as they amount to collective punishment. It’s time for a reset.

Updated June 8, 2022

Reports

6/1/21: Bolivia After the 2019 Coup: Economic Policy 

12/9/20: What Criticisms of Bolivia’s 2019 Elections Continue to Get Wrong

5/27/20: The Ends Don’t Justify the Means – Center for Economic and Policy Research

3/10/20: Observing the Observers: The OAS in the 2019 Bolivian Elections

2/27/20: Analysis of the 2019 Bolivia Election 

12/12/19: Unnatural Claims in a ‘Natural Experiment’: Escobari and Hoover on the 2019 Bolivian Elections

11/8/19: What Happened in Bolivia’s 2019 Vote Count?

10/17/19: Bolivia’s Economic Transformation: Macroeconomic Policies, Institutional Changes and Results 

Articles

12/22/21: CEPR Spotlight: Bolivia

11/11/21: At General Assembly, OAS Role in Bolivia Coup Remains Major Concern

10/22/21: What Really Happened in Bolivia’s 2019 Elections? Experts Share Their Findings 

→  Partial Transcription

10/18/20: Bolivian Elections Live Blog 

8/27/21: New Report on Human Rights Violations in Bolivia in 2019 Sheds Light on the Role of the OAS 

7/20/21: The OAS’s Favorite Electoral Authority in Bolivia Just Slammed the OAS for Causing “Havoc” after the 2019 Elections 

12/22/20: A Tale of Two Elections

10/23/20: Mexico at the OAS General Assembly: Almagro Undermined the OAS Charter and Damaged Bolivia’s Democracy

10/21/20: Data from Bolivia’s Election Add More Evidence That OAS Fabricated Last Year’s Fraud Claims

10/21/20: Bolivians Reclaim Their Democracy

10/20/20: Two Interviews on the Bolivian Coup and Its Aftermath 

10/18/20: Bolivian Elections Live Blog

10/18/20: The OAS Helped Facilitate Last Year’s Coup Against Evo Morales. Now It’s Observing Today’s Bolivian Elections  

10/5/20: Why a DC Public Relations Firm Pretended to Be Bolivian on Facebook

9/18/20: What the OAS Did to Bolivia

9/8/20: The OAS Misused Its Own Data to Help Fabricate Its Accusation of Fraud Against Evo Morales

5/12/20: Under Luis Almagro, the OAS is Advancing the Trump Agenda in Latin America 

6/3/20: How Bolivia’s de Facto Regime Has Taken Advantage of COVID-19 to Consolidate Its Power and Repress Political Rivals 

3/26/20: Guilty Until Proven Innocent: The Diego Escobari Approach to Bolivia’s Elections 

3/24/20: Human Rights Conditions Have Deteriorated Rapidly Under Bolivia’s De Facto Government  

2/6/20: If Iowa Were Bolivia, the US Would Have Already Intervened 

2/5/20: Bolivia’s “Caretaker” Government Makes Radical Foreign Policy Changes ― and Wins over Powerful Allies

2/5/20: What Does the Future Hold for US-Bolivia Ties?

1/15/20: CARICOM Stands Up to Bolivian Coup Regime — And to Almagro’s Interventionist Agenda

1/7/20: Calling a Coup a Coup: The State Department Ignores the Law, Again

12/12/19: Preliminary Analysis of the Findings of the Final Report on the OAS Audit

11/25/19: How the OAS, and the Media’s Lack of Scrutiny, Caused a Violent Coup in Bolivia

11/20/19: Evo Morales’s Life was in Danger, and He Almost Didn’t Make it Out of Bolivia 

11/19/19: The Organization of American States Has Deceived the Public, Terribly, on the Bolivian Election

11/17/19: The OAS Helped Drive Bolivia into Crisis — And Enabled a Military Coup

11/16/19: What Happened in Bolivia Was a Coup, and the OAS Played a Key Role in It.

11/10/19: What is Happening in Bolivia: CEPR’s Recent Work

11/8/19: Can the Trump Administration and the OAS Overturn Bolivia’s Election Results?

Press Releases

3/11/22: US Congress Passes Omnibus Spending Bill that Calls for State Department to Investigate Claims of Fraudulent Election in Bolivia in 2019

12/4/21: Pressure Increases for New Biden Administration to Deal with OAS Involvement in Bolivian 2019 Coup  

10/20/21: US Senate Appropriations Language Directs Secretary of State to Examine OAS Role in Bolivia’s 2019 Coup

6/1/21: New Report Shows Bolivia’s Post-Coup Government Caused “Economic Damage” 

5/5/21: DOJ Inquiry and Threats Related to CEPR’s Analysis of Bolivia’s 2019 Elections Should Be Investigated

12/9/20: New Report on Bolivia’s 2019 Election Responds to Claims of Fraud Late in Count 

10/19/20: MAS Victory in Bolivian Elections a “Triumph for Democracy,” CEPR Co-Director Says

10/15/20: CEPR Co-Director Warns of Possible Recurrence of OAS Electoral Fraud in Bolivia 

10/14/20: Bolivia Election Changes Will Make Results Less Transparent Than in 2019, CEPR Researchers Warn 

9/4/20: US Members of Congress Call for Investigation of OAS Role in Destroying Bolivian Democracy

8/26/20: OAS Head Attempting to Expand His Power at the Expense of the Organization’s Human Rights Arm, CEPR Co-Director Says  

8/24/20: Major Coding Error Reveals Another Fatal Flaw in OAS Analysis of Bolivia’s 2019 Elections

8/12/20: International Community Should Condemn Violent Repression of Pro-Democracy Protests in Bolivia, CEPR Co-Director Says 

8/7/20: European MEPs’ Letter, Citing CEPR, Condemns OAS’s Baseless Claims about Bolivian Elections 

6/17/20: CEPR Statement Responding to OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro Regarding Bolivia’s 2019 Elections 

6/7/20: New York Times and New Report Confirm CEPR Analysis Refuting OAS Claims of Flawed Bolivian Election Results 

3/10/20: New CEPR Report Shows OAS “Misrepresented Data and Evidence” in Its Final Audit Report to Justify Accusations of Bolivian Elections Fraud

2/27/20: New Study Finds No Evidence of OAS Fraud Claims, “Very Likely” Evo Morales Won Bolivia’s October Elections in the First Round

10/22/19: OAS Should Retract Its Press Release on Bolivian Election, CEPR Co-Director Says

10/17/19: New Report Reviews Changes in Bolivia’s Economy under Evo Morales’s Presidency 

In the News 

12/2/19: The OAS has to answer for its role in the Bolivian coup | Ha-Joon Chang, James K Galbraith, Thea Lee, Mark Weisbrot, Oscar Ugarteche, Jayati Ghosh , Stephanie Kelton and others | The Guardian 

9/4/20: Congress should investigate OAS actions in Bolivia | The Hill  

9/13/20: Guillaume Long: La OEA escondió sus hallazgos sobre la auditoría en Bolivia – La Razón | Noticias de Bolivia y el Mundo 

7/23/20: The US-Supported Coup in Bolivia: Revealing and Tragic – System Update with Glenn Greenwald 

Other Publications

Do shifts in late-counted votes signal fraud? Evidence from Bolivia – Francisco R. Rodríguez 

Analysis of the 2019 Bolivia Election – John Curiel and Jack R. Williams

 

Updated June 8, 2022

Reports

6/1/21: Bolivia After the 2019 Coup: Economic Policy 

12/9/20: What Criticisms of Bolivia’s 2019 Elections Continue to Get Wrong

5/27/20: The Ends Don’t Justify the Means – Center for Economic and Policy Research

3/10/20: Observing the Observers: The OAS in the 2019 Bolivian Elections

2/27/20: Analysis of the 2019 Bolivia Election 

12/12/19: Unnatural Claims in a ‘Natural Experiment’: Escobari and Hoover on the 2019 Bolivian Elections

11/8/19: What Happened in Bolivia’s 2019 Vote Count?

10/17/19: Bolivia’s Economic Transformation: Macroeconomic Policies, Institutional Changes and Results 

Articles

12/22/21: CEPR Spotlight: Bolivia

11/11/21: At General Assembly, OAS Role in Bolivia Coup Remains Major Concern

10/22/21: What Really Happened in Bolivia’s 2019 Elections? Experts Share Their Findings 

→  Partial Transcription

10/18/20: Bolivian Elections Live Blog 

8/27/21: New Report on Human Rights Violations in Bolivia in 2019 Sheds Light on the Role of the OAS 

7/20/21: The OAS’s Favorite Electoral Authority in Bolivia Just Slammed the OAS for Causing “Havoc” after the 2019 Elections 

12/22/20: A Tale of Two Elections

10/23/20: Mexico at the OAS General Assembly: Almagro Undermined the OAS Charter and Damaged Bolivia’s Democracy

10/21/20: Data from Bolivia’s Election Add More Evidence That OAS Fabricated Last Year’s Fraud Claims

10/21/20: Bolivians Reclaim Their Democracy

10/20/20: Two Interviews on the Bolivian Coup and Its Aftermath 

10/18/20: Bolivian Elections Live Blog

10/18/20: The OAS Helped Facilitate Last Year’s Coup Against Evo Morales. Now It’s Observing Today’s Bolivian Elections  

10/5/20: Why a DC Public Relations Firm Pretended to Be Bolivian on Facebook

9/18/20: What the OAS Did to Bolivia

9/8/20: The OAS Misused Its Own Data to Help Fabricate Its Accusation of Fraud Against Evo Morales

5/12/20: Under Luis Almagro, the OAS is Advancing the Trump Agenda in Latin America 

6/3/20: How Bolivia’s de Facto Regime Has Taken Advantage of COVID-19 to Consolidate Its Power and Repress Political Rivals 

3/26/20: Guilty Until Proven Innocent: The Diego Escobari Approach to Bolivia’s Elections 

3/24/20: Human Rights Conditions Have Deteriorated Rapidly Under Bolivia’s De Facto Government  

2/6/20: If Iowa Were Bolivia, the US Would Have Already Intervened 

2/5/20: Bolivia’s “Caretaker” Government Makes Radical Foreign Policy Changes ― and Wins over Powerful Allies

2/5/20: What Does the Future Hold for US-Bolivia Ties?

1/15/20: CARICOM Stands Up to Bolivian Coup Regime — And to Almagro’s Interventionist Agenda

1/7/20: Calling a Coup a Coup: The State Department Ignores the Law, Again

12/12/19: Preliminary Analysis of the Findings of the Final Report on the OAS Audit

11/25/19: How the OAS, and the Media’s Lack of Scrutiny, Caused a Violent Coup in Bolivia

11/20/19: Evo Morales’s Life was in Danger, and He Almost Didn’t Make it Out of Bolivia 

11/19/19: The Organization of American States Has Deceived the Public, Terribly, on the Bolivian Election

11/17/19: The OAS Helped Drive Bolivia into Crisis — And Enabled a Military Coup

11/16/19: What Happened in Bolivia Was a Coup, and the OAS Played a Key Role in It.

11/10/19: What is Happening in Bolivia: CEPR’s Recent Work

11/8/19: Can the Trump Administration and the OAS Overturn Bolivia’s Election Results?

Press Releases

3/11/22: US Congress Passes Omnibus Spending Bill that Calls for State Department to Investigate Claims of Fraudulent Election in Bolivia in 2019

12/4/21: Pressure Increases for New Biden Administration to Deal with OAS Involvement in Bolivian 2019 Coup  

10/20/21: US Senate Appropriations Language Directs Secretary of State to Examine OAS Role in Bolivia’s 2019 Coup

6/1/21: New Report Shows Bolivia’s Post-Coup Government Caused “Economic Damage” 

5/5/21: DOJ Inquiry and Threats Related to CEPR’s Analysis of Bolivia’s 2019 Elections Should Be Investigated

12/9/20: New Report on Bolivia’s 2019 Election Responds to Claims of Fraud Late in Count 

10/19/20: MAS Victory in Bolivian Elections a “Triumph for Democracy,” CEPR Co-Director Says

10/15/20: CEPR Co-Director Warns of Possible Recurrence of OAS Electoral Fraud in Bolivia 

10/14/20: Bolivia Election Changes Will Make Results Less Transparent Than in 2019, CEPR Researchers Warn 

9/4/20: US Members of Congress Call for Investigation of OAS Role in Destroying Bolivian Democracy

8/26/20: OAS Head Attempting to Expand His Power at the Expense of the Organization’s Human Rights Arm, CEPR Co-Director Says  

8/24/20: Major Coding Error Reveals Another Fatal Flaw in OAS Analysis of Bolivia’s 2019 Elections

8/12/20: International Community Should Condemn Violent Repression of Pro-Democracy Protests in Bolivia, CEPR Co-Director Says 

8/7/20: European MEPs’ Letter, Citing CEPR, Condemns OAS’s Baseless Claims about Bolivian Elections 

6/17/20: CEPR Statement Responding to OAS Secretary-General Luis Almagro Regarding Bolivia’s 2019 Elections 

6/7/20: New York Times and New Report Confirm CEPR Analysis Refuting OAS Claims of Flawed Bolivian Election Results 

3/10/20: New CEPR Report Shows OAS “Misrepresented Data and Evidence” in Its Final Audit Report to Justify Accusations of Bolivian Elections Fraud

2/27/20: New Study Finds No Evidence of OAS Fraud Claims, “Very Likely” Evo Morales Won Bolivia’s October Elections in the First Round

10/22/19: OAS Should Retract Its Press Release on Bolivian Election, CEPR Co-Director Says

10/17/19: New Report Reviews Changes in Bolivia’s Economy under Evo Morales’s Presidency 

In the News 

12/2/19: The OAS has to answer for its role in the Bolivian coup | Ha-Joon Chang, James K Galbraith, Thea Lee, Mark Weisbrot, Oscar Ugarteche, Jayati Ghosh , Stephanie Kelton and others | The Guardian 

9/4/20: Congress should investigate OAS actions in Bolivia | The Hill  

9/13/20: Guillaume Long: La OEA escondió sus hallazgos sobre la auditoría en Bolivia – La Razón | Noticias de Bolivia y el Mundo 

7/23/20: The US-Supported Coup in Bolivia: Revealing and Tragic – System Update with Glenn Greenwald 

Other Publications

Do shifts in late-counted votes signal fraud? Evidence from Bolivia – Francisco R. Rodríguez 

Analysis of the 2019 Bolivia Election – John Curiel and Jack R. Williams

 

The enduring legacy of Venezuela’s short-lived 2002 coup d’etat, and the subsequent countercoup, for US-Latin American relations

On April 11, 2002, Venezuela’s democratically elected government, headed by Hugo Chávez Frías, was ousted in a military coup d’etat. Then, dramatically, two days later, the coup was overturned by a mass mobilization of Venezuelans. They demanded the restoration of democracy and the return of a government that appeared to be making good on its commitment to redistribute Venezuela’s oil wealth to benefit the country’s most marginalized sectors. These events led to lasting ramifications not just for Venezuela, but for Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole, paving the way for a “pink tide” of progressive movements that took power democratically throughout the region. In many cases, similar power struggles ensued, pitting left-leaning governments supporting economic and social gains for the poor, the working class, and marginalized communities, against powerful factions of society seeking, generally, to maintain a status quo that has served to benefit mostly a small number of elites and foreign interests while exploiting and repressing the majority population.

The coup itself was not novel, of course, but it was the first Latin American coup in the twenty-first century, and showed that the US government would continue to prioritize its perceived geopolitical interests — and those of multinational corporations — in the region over democracy. The US would go on to support coups, and other sorts of undemocratic political transitions, in Haiti (2004), Honduras (2009), Paraguay (2012), Brazil (2016), and Bolivia (2019) — and would show support for attempted coups in Bolivia (2008), Ecuador (2010), and Venezuela (2019). Elements of the 2002 Venezuela coup playbook would also be repeated in many cases.

Much has since been written about the trajectory the Chávez government took following its survival of the coup, for better and for worse. The experiences of late 2002 and early 2003 (in which many of the same opposition forces continued their attempt to topple the government through a crippling months-long managerial strike that paralyzed the oil industry), and 2004, when Chávez handily survived a recall referendum, demonstrated both that Chávez had nothing to lose by turning farther left (he would proclaim his government’s goal of working toward “socialism for the twenty-first century” in 2005), and that he would need to take firm action if he were to gain control of the Venezuelan economy and be able to carry out his agenda. Chávez sacked PDVSA’s striking managers, which subsequently allowed Venezuela to achieve some of the strongest economic growth in the region for several years after. This was accompanied by impressive poverty reduction and the launching of the many misiones — programs designed to provide low-income Venezuelans with food, health care, education, and other needs.

The “self-proclaimed socialist” President Chávez (as international media loved to call him) that we remember now is really the post-coup Chávez. More than 20 years after he was first elected, it is easy to forget that he originally campaigned on a “third way” platform, calling to mind Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. So what did Chávez do in his first years that so upset his opponents, foreign and domestic, that they overthrew him?

At home, Chávez’s fledgling government embarked on long-overdue land reform. It enacted a new constitution, which consolidated a breaking of the old political order exemplified by the punto fijo pact that had ensured that political power alternated between the nominally social democratic Acción Democrática party and more conservative Christian democrat COPEI party. The traditional parties and factions lost seven elections in just three years.

On the global stage, amid the start of the US’s “Global War on Terror” and George W. Bush’s imperious declaration that “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” Chávez did not hesitate to harshly condemn the US bombing of Afghanistan and its predictable civilian death toll. Chávez’s government reinvigorated OPEC; its oil diplomacy led to production cuts and a global oil price stabilization. Worse, Chávez sought to renegotiate oil deals with foreign companies that, for years, had supplied US and other companies with cheap oil while providing little revenue to Venezuela itself. He stopped allowing US counternarcotics flights from entering Venezuelan airspace, and ended the US military presence at the Fuerte Tiuna military base. He was skeptical of the US effort to expand NAFTA throughout the hemisphere as the “Free Trade Area of the Americas.” And he conspicuously developed a close relationship with the Cuban government.

The US government was wary of Chávez well before he was elected president. Once he was in office, this began to turn toward open hostility, and in the months before the coup, some observers, such as John Pilger and Conn Hallinan, began to warn that a coup d’etat appeared likely.

Shortly after Chávez’s denunciations of the US war on Afghanistan in late 2001, which he made on TV while holding up photographs of Afghan children killed in US strikes, US military and intelligence agencies met to discuss their Venezuela strategy. Within Venezuela, militant opposition sectors launched a protracted effort to undermine the Chávez government with the goal of toppling it. Senior military officers held press conferences denouncing the “dictatorship” and calling for “civil disobedience” against the country’s recently reelected president. The main trade union federation, the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), close to the corrupt, centrist traditional parties that Chávez’s movement had made suddenly irrelevant, joined with the main business association, Fedecámaras, to launch a “general strike” (mostly involving temporary closures of small businesses rather than actual worker strikes).

It was against this backdrop of economic sabotage — and what was reported in the international media as organized labor’s discontent with the Chávez administration — that the coup took place. The catalyzing event that would justify military action against Chávez, and that would explain the quick emergence of a new, unelected government headed by Fedecámaras president Pedro Carmona, was violence connected to a massive opposition march on the presidential palace where marchers faced off against a wall of supporters of the elected government and presidential guard troops who fired tear gas at the opposition demonstrators. Snipers fired on the crowd, mostly killing chavistas, but Venezuela’s opposition-controlled private media blamed Chávez for the killings — accusations soon relayed by international media and the US State Department. This supposed chavista violence became a key part of the pretext for the coup and the narrative that, with the military turning on him, Chávez had decided to resign and flee. In fact, he was taken prisoner and held at military bases (where, Chávez would later claim, he was nearly executed).

Meanwhile, the hastily assembled coup regime abolished Venezuela’s Congress, Supreme Court, and constitution. The coup was greeted with applause in the US, with the International Republic Institute (IRI) — a US government-funded group set up in large part to “do today [what] was done covertly [before] by the CIA” — openly celebrating, and the New York Times praising Chávez’s removal in an editorial. The IMF quickly offered assistance to the “new administration” in prepared remarks just hours after the coup had transpired, suggesting that the Fund’s leaders may have had advance knowledge. (Several members of the US Congress would later ask the Fund to explain this, but never received more than a dismissive response.)

On the ground in Venezuela, some opposition leaders, some of whom are still prominent today, such as Leopoldo López, participated in the coup by helping to persecute and detain officials from the elected government. But what Carmona, López, and other coup supporters didn’t count on was the reaction of the Venezuelan people. Tens of thousands mobilized, coming down from the barrios that line the hillsides above Caracas, and marched on the presidential palace. Chávez retained supporters in the military as well, where he had first organized his revolutionary movement, and the combination of popular pressure and military support for the elected government — along with the revelation that Chávez never had, contrary to Venezuelan media claims, resigned — led to the coup being overturned on April 13.

The golpistas quickly began to back peddle; some who had signed the infamous “Carmona Decree” abolishing the democratic government would deny they had, or would express regret. International supporters of the overthrow of the elected government, including the New York Times, were forced to walk back their statements and admit they had betrayed principles of democratic governance.

Following his return, Chávez was emboldened; even more so after he survived the 2002–2003 oil lockout and took control of PDVSA. He easily triumphed in a 2004 recall referendum (Ricardo Hausmann’s baseless claims of a rigged vote notwithstanding). Within three years, Chávez moved away from his previous “third way” positioning and proclaimed that his government would pursue “socialism for the 21st century.”

Meanwhile, the “Pink Tide” took off, with the elections of Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay (2004), Evo Morales in Bolivia (2005), Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Manuel Zelaya in Honduras (2006), and Fernando Lugo in Paraguay (2008), in addition to Lula da Silva (Brazil, 2002) and Néstor Kirchner (Argentina, 2003). Regional integration projects soon took off: the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), Petrocaribe and Petrosur (which provided discounted Venezuelan oil to neighboring countries), and UNASUR, among others. The Pink Tide governments also buried the US’s central policy priority for the region at the time: the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which would have expanded NAFTA throughout nearly the entire hemisphere. The Mar del Plata, Argentina summit where the FTAA met its end in 2005 was such a fiasco for the US government that President Bush left early.

Countering Venezuela became the main priority for the US in Latin America and the Caribbean, as a 2006 State Department memo, published by WikiLeaks, made clear. Scores of other cables record how often Venezuela would be a prime topic of discussion between US officials and government and civil society figures in the region, as first Bush and then the Obama administration attempted to stop countries from joining Petrocaribe and other Venezuela-led initiatives, despite privately acknowledging the significant economic benefits for the countries that joined them.

Despite its failure, the Venezuela coup fit a pattern for US-backed regime change efforts. NGOs and activist groups received funding and training from the US government and affiliated groups (notably, the National Endowment for Democracy, NED, of which the IRI is a core grantee). US officials and NED advisors worked hard, although with limited success, to get Venezuela’s opposition to unify and agree on a long-term strategy for throwing out the Chávez government. A similar playbook had been used in places like Serbia, and it would be implemented in subsequent coups in Haiti, Honduras, and Bolivia, with many of the same antagonists (the NED and its core grantees, major media outlets, the business community, and often the Catholic Church hierarchy and the military — except in Haiti, where the military was abolished, but active coup participants included former military).

Denial that a coup had happened after the fact is also a key element of the strategy, one that followed coups in Haiti, Honduras, and Bolivia as well. “It makes perfect sense that in a time when the international community frowns upon coups, that if one were to organize a coup, the first order of business would be to make the coup look like it was something else,” long-time Venezuela analyst Greg Wilpert wrote in an introduction to a 2003 book on the Venezuela coup. Yet internally, the US State Department itself referred to the events of April 2002 in Caracas as a “brief coup” (in 2004 and 2005 cables, for example).

In Haiti in 2004, the prevailing narrative put forward by US officials as well as most of the media was that the democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, had not been overthrown in a coup, but had “resigned” and chosen to flee the country. Never mind that Aristide and Haiti’s first lady were escorted onto a US plane by US Special Forces soldiers; that the Aristides had no idea where the plane was taking them; that Aristide said it had been a “‘new coup d’etat,’ or ‘modern kidnapping’”; and never mind that one of the only other witnesses to these events not in the employ of the US, Aristide’s helicopter pilot, would have the same description of these events as the Aristides. In the wake of the coup, it was easy for the media to overlook the hunting down and persecution of officials and supporters of the ousted government, as the media all but vacated Haiti after the coup, even as thousands were murdered and hundreds imprisoned on bogus charges. As with Venezuela in 2002, the coup government was quickly offered assistance by international finance institutions in Washington, which had previously enacted an aid embargo and had withheld hundreds of millions in loans to Aristide’s government. Some of the same individuals, affiliated with the IRI, even appear to have been involved in both the Venezuelan and Haitian coups.

The 2009 Honduras coup followed a similar playbook, with President Zelaya being forced onto a plane and flown out of the country (after it stopped at a US airbase to refuel) while coup supporters suggested that Zelaya had somehow staged the whole thing and that no coup had taken place. As with Venezuela in 2002, evidence suggests that US officials knew of the coup plans in advance, but there is no indication that they warned the democratically elected government. (It is notable that State Department cables published by WikiLeaks also show that US officials believed there was a credible threat to Evo Morales’s government in Bolivia in 2008, and that he even might be overthrown or killed, but this was not what the US government communicated to the world or to the Bolivian government at the time.)

The following year, Ecuador’s left-wing president, Rafael Correa, came close to being overthrown, and even killed, amid a dramatic confrontation with protesting police officers that ended in a shootout at a hospital where Correa was being treated after he was tear-gassed by the police. Paraguay’s progressive president Fernando Lugo, a former priest, was ousted in a parliamentary coup in 2012 that foreshadowed Brazil president Dilma Rousseff’s fate in 2016. In each of these cases, loud voices proclaimed that these were not “coups,” or coup attempts.

Though it was especially bloody, and racist violence and threats of violence were employed against officials of the elected government to force their departure, there are today still some (even in academia) who loudly deny that the Evo Morales government ended in a coup d’etat. Morales only resigned and left Bolivia after the head of the military asked him to resign, and even then, Morales almost didn’t make it out of Bolivia alive. Violent repression, including two notorious massacres of Indigenous Bolivians, followed the coup. The coup government targeted journalists and activists, and many former government officials were forced to flee the country or take shelter in embassies. Yet anyone who condemned these events as a “coup” was systematically criticized and harassed on social media.

The Bolivian coup, like Venezuela’s, would also effectively be overturned, but only after a year, through elections that were finally organized only after strikes and popular mobilizations demanding that elections be held. Morales’s Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party won overwhelmingly, making it impossible for the pro-coup right to even make credible claims of election fraud. The elected government is attempting to hold the coup perpetrators accountable for their crimes, but the initial arrests and charging of top officials were promptly condemned by US officials and the likes of Human Rights Watch, who dismissed them as “revenge justice.”

Whether the Bolivian government will be able to successfully hold accountable those who overthrew an elected government, and those who were responsible for the repression and violence that took place under the coup government, is important not just for Bolivia, but for the region. If coup perpetrators rarely face consequences for their crimes, and if the US continues to condemn efforts to hold such individuals to account, there is much incentive and little to dissuade antidemocratic forces in Latin America from continuing to carry out coups.

But if countries in Latin America and the Caribbean work together to oppose extralegal regime changes, and demand consequences when coups are attempted, then perhaps the Latin American coup d’etat will become a relic of the past. There are important lessons from the regional response to the Honduras coup, when a majority of countries in the region loudly rejected the coup and would have overturned it, returning Zelaya to office, had the US not blocked this at the Organization of American States (OAS). The episode brought US-Latin American relations to a historic low and led to the creation of the Committee of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), intended to be an alternative to the OAS, and which included all the countries of the Americas except for the US and Canada.

With the Pink Tide returning, and with the OAS especially tarnished following its disgraceful role in the lead-up to the Bolivia coup, regional integration initiatives like CELAC should be pursued even more vigorously than before. Otherwise, Latin American elites and their allies in the US will continue their attempts to veto democracy, and resort to using the bullet when the ballot doesn’t go their way.

The enduring legacy of Venezuela’s short-lived 2002 coup d’etat, and the subsequent countercoup, for US-Latin American relations

On April 11, 2002, Venezuela’s democratically elected government, headed by Hugo Chávez Frías, was ousted in a military coup d’etat. Then, dramatically, two days later, the coup was overturned by a mass mobilization of Venezuelans. They demanded the restoration of democracy and the return of a government that appeared to be making good on its commitment to redistribute Venezuela’s oil wealth to benefit the country’s most marginalized sectors. These events led to lasting ramifications not just for Venezuela, but for Latin America and the Caribbean as a whole, paving the way for a “pink tide” of progressive movements that took power democratically throughout the region. In many cases, similar power struggles ensued, pitting left-leaning governments supporting economic and social gains for the poor, the working class, and marginalized communities, against powerful factions of society seeking, generally, to maintain a status quo that has served to benefit mostly a small number of elites and foreign interests while exploiting and repressing the majority population.

The coup itself was not novel, of course, but it was the first Latin American coup in the twenty-first century, and showed that the US government would continue to prioritize its perceived geopolitical interests — and those of multinational corporations — in the region over democracy. The US would go on to support coups, and other sorts of undemocratic political transitions, in Haiti (2004), Honduras (2009), Paraguay (2012), Brazil (2016), and Bolivia (2019) — and would show support for attempted coups in Bolivia (2008), Ecuador (2010), and Venezuela (2019). Elements of the 2002 Venezuela coup playbook would also be repeated in many cases.

Much has since been written about the trajectory the Chávez government took following its survival of the coup, for better and for worse. The experiences of late 2002 and early 2003 (in which many of the same opposition forces continued their attempt to topple the government through a crippling months-long managerial strike that paralyzed the oil industry), and 2004, when Chávez handily survived a recall referendum, demonstrated both that Chávez had nothing to lose by turning farther left (he would proclaim his government’s goal of working toward “socialism for the twenty-first century” in 2005), and that he would need to take firm action if he were to gain control of the Venezuelan economy and be able to carry out his agenda. Chávez sacked PDVSA’s striking managers, which subsequently allowed Venezuela to achieve some of the strongest economic growth in the region for several years after. This was accompanied by impressive poverty reduction and the launching of the many misiones — programs designed to provide low-income Venezuelans with food, health care, education, and other needs.

The “self-proclaimed socialist” President Chávez (as international media loved to call him) that we remember now is really the post-coup Chávez. More than 20 years after he was first elected, it is easy to forget that he originally campaigned on a “third way” platform, calling to mind Tony Blair and Bill Clinton. So what did Chávez do in his first years that so upset his opponents, foreign and domestic, that they overthrew him?

At home, Chávez’s fledgling government embarked on long-overdue land reform. It enacted a new constitution, which consolidated a breaking of the old political order exemplified by the punto fijo pact that had ensured that political power alternated between the nominally social democratic Acción Democrática party and more conservative Christian democrat COPEI party. The traditional parties and factions lost seven elections in just three years.

On the global stage, amid the start of the US’s “Global War on Terror” and George W. Bush’s imperious declaration that “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” Chávez did not hesitate to harshly condemn the US bombing of Afghanistan and its predictable civilian death toll. Chávez’s government reinvigorated OPEC; its oil diplomacy led to production cuts and a global oil price stabilization. Worse, Chávez sought to renegotiate oil deals with foreign companies that, for years, had supplied US and other companies with cheap oil while providing little revenue to Venezuela itself. He stopped allowing US counternarcotics flights from entering Venezuelan airspace, and ended the US military presence at the Fuerte Tiuna military base. He was skeptical of the US effort to expand NAFTA throughout the hemisphere as the “Free Trade Area of the Americas.” And he conspicuously developed a close relationship with the Cuban government.

The US government was wary of Chávez well before he was elected president. Once he was in office, this began to turn toward open hostility, and in the months before the coup, some observers, such as John Pilger and Conn Hallinan, began to warn that a coup d’etat appeared likely.

Shortly after Chávez’s denunciations of the US war on Afghanistan in late 2001, which he made on TV while holding up photographs of Afghan children killed in US strikes, US military and intelligence agencies met to discuss their Venezuela strategy. Within Venezuela, militant opposition sectors launched a protracted effort to undermine the Chávez government with the goal of toppling it. Senior military officers held press conferences denouncing the “dictatorship” and calling for “civil disobedience” against the country’s recently reelected president. The main trade union federation, the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), close to the corrupt, centrist traditional parties that Chávez’s movement had made suddenly irrelevant, joined with the main business association, Fedecámaras, to launch a “general strike” (mostly involving temporary closures of small businesses rather than actual worker strikes).

It was against this backdrop of economic sabotage — and what was reported in the international media as organized labor’s discontent with the Chávez administration — that the coup took place. The catalyzing event that would justify military action against Chávez, and that would explain the quick emergence of a new, unelected government headed by Fedecámaras president Pedro Carmona, was violence connected to a massive opposition march on the presidential palace where marchers faced off against a wall of supporters of the elected government and presidential guard troops who fired tear gas at the opposition demonstrators. Snipers fired on the crowd, mostly killing chavistas, but Venezuela’s opposition-controlled private media blamed Chávez for the killings — accusations soon relayed by international media and the US State Department. This supposed chavista violence became a key part of the pretext for the coup and the narrative that, with the military turning on him, Chávez had decided to resign and flee. In fact, he was taken prisoner and held at military bases (where, Chávez would later claim, he was nearly executed).

Meanwhile, the hastily assembled coup regime abolished Venezuela’s Congress, Supreme Court, and constitution. The coup was greeted with applause in the US, with the International Republic Institute (IRI) — a US government-funded group set up in large part to “do today [what] was done covertly [before] by the CIA” — openly celebrating, and the New York Times praising Chávez’s removal in an editorial. The IMF quickly offered assistance to the “new administration” in prepared remarks just hours after the coup had transpired, suggesting that the Fund’s leaders may have had advance knowledge. (Several members of the US Congress would later ask the Fund to explain this, but never received more than a dismissive response.)

On the ground in Venezuela, some opposition leaders, some of whom are still prominent today, such as Leopoldo López, participated in the coup by helping to persecute and detain officials from the elected government. But what Carmona, López, and other coup supporters didn’t count on was the reaction of the Venezuelan people. Tens of thousands mobilized, coming down from the barrios that line the hillsides above Caracas, and marched on the presidential palace. Chávez retained supporters in the military as well, where he had first organized his revolutionary movement, and the combination of popular pressure and military support for the elected government — along with the revelation that Chávez never had, contrary to Venezuelan media claims, resigned — led to the coup being overturned on April 13.

The golpistas quickly began to back peddle; some who had signed the infamous “Carmona Decree” abolishing the democratic government would deny they had, or would express regret. International supporters of the overthrow of the elected government, including the New York Times, were forced to walk back their statements and admit they had betrayed principles of democratic governance.

Following his return, Chávez was emboldened; even more so after he survived the 2002–2003 oil lockout and took control of PDVSA. He easily triumphed in a 2004 recall referendum (Ricardo Hausmann’s baseless claims of a rigged vote notwithstanding). Within three years, Chávez moved away from his previous “third way” positioning and proclaimed that his government would pursue “socialism for the 21st century.”

Meanwhile, the “Pink Tide” took off, with the elections of Tabaré Vázquez in Uruguay (2004), Evo Morales in Bolivia (2005), Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Manuel Zelaya in Honduras (2006), and Fernando Lugo in Paraguay (2008), in addition to Lula da Silva (Brazil, 2002) and Néstor Kirchner (Argentina, 2003). Regional integration projects soon took off: the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), Petrocaribe and Petrosur (which provided discounted Venezuelan oil to neighboring countries), and UNASUR, among others. The Pink Tide governments also buried the US’s central policy priority for the region at the time: the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which would have expanded NAFTA throughout nearly the entire hemisphere. The Mar del Plata, Argentina summit where the FTAA met its end in 2005 was such a fiasco for the US government that President Bush left early.

Countering Venezuela became the main priority for the US in Latin America and the Caribbean, as a 2006 State Department memo, published by WikiLeaks, made clear. Scores of other cables record how often Venezuela would be a prime topic of discussion between US officials and government and civil society figures in the region, as first Bush and then the Obama administration attempted to stop countries from joining Petrocaribe and other Venezuela-led initiatives, despite privately acknowledging the significant economic benefits for the countries that joined them.

Despite its failure, the Venezuela coup fit a pattern for US-backed regime change efforts. NGOs and activist groups received funding and training from the US government and affiliated groups (notably, the National Endowment for Democracy, NED, of which the IRI is a core grantee). US officials and NED advisors worked hard, although with limited success, to get Venezuela’s opposition to unify and agree on a long-term strategy for throwing out the Chávez government. A similar playbook had been used in places like Serbia, and it would be implemented in subsequent coups in Haiti, Honduras, and Bolivia, with many of the same antagonists (the NED and its core grantees, major media outlets, the business community, and often the Catholic Church hierarchy and the military — except in Haiti, where the military was abolished, but active coup participants included former military).

Denial that a coup had happened after the fact is also a key element of the strategy, one that followed coups in Haiti, Honduras, and Bolivia as well. “It makes perfect sense that in a time when the international community frowns upon coups, that if one were to organize a coup, the first order of business would be to make the coup look like it was something else,” long-time Venezuela analyst Greg Wilpert wrote in an introduction to a 2003 book on the Venezuela coup. Yet internally, the US State Department itself referred to the events of April 2002 in Caracas as a “brief coup” (in 2004 and 2005 cables, for example).

In Haiti in 2004, the prevailing narrative put forward by US officials as well as most of the media was that the democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, had not been overthrown in a coup, but had “resigned” and chosen to flee the country. Never mind that Aristide and Haiti’s first lady were escorted onto a US plane by US Special Forces soldiers; that the Aristides had no idea where the plane was taking them; that Aristide said it had been a “‘new coup d’etat,’ or ‘modern kidnapping’”; and never mind that one of the only other witnesses to these events not in the employ of the US, Aristide’s helicopter pilot, would have the same description of these events as the Aristides. In the wake of the coup, it was easy for the media to overlook the hunting down and persecution of officials and supporters of the ousted government, as the media all but vacated Haiti after the coup, even as thousands were murdered and hundreds imprisoned on bogus charges. As with Venezuela in 2002, the coup government was quickly offered assistance by international finance institutions in Washington, which had previously enacted an aid embargo and had withheld hundreds of millions in loans to Aristide’s government. Some of the same individuals, affiliated with the IRI, even appear to have been involved in both the Venezuelan and Haitian coups.

The 2009 Honduras coup followed a similar playbook, with President Zelaya being forced onto a plane and flown out of the country (after it stopped at a US airbase to refuel) while coup supporters suggested that Zelaya had somehow staged the whole thing and that no coup had taken place. As with Venezuela in 2002, evidence suggests that US officials knew of the coup plans in advance, but there is no indication that they warned the democratically elected government. (It is notable that State Department cables published by WikiLeaks also show that US officials believed there was a credible threat to Evo Morales’s government in Bolivia in 2008, and that he even might be overthrown or killed, but this was not what the US government communicated to the world or to the Bolivian government at the time.)

The following year, Ecuador’s left-wing president, Rafael Correa, came close to being overthrown, and even killed, amid a dramatic confrontation with protesting police officers that ended in a shootout at a hospital where Correa was being treated after he was tear-gassed by the police. Paraguay’s progressive president Fernando Lugo, a former priest, was ousted in a parliamentary coup in 2012 that foreshadowed Brazil president Dilma Rousseff’s fate in 2016. In each of these cases, loud voices proclaimed that these were not “coups,” or coup attempts.

Though it was especially bloody, and racist violence and threats of violence were employed against officials of the elected government to force their departure, there are today still some (even in academia) who loudly deny that the Evo Morales government ended in a coup d’etat. Morales only resigned and left Bolivia after the head of the military asked him to resign, and even then, Morales almost didn’t make it out of Bolivia alive. Violent repression, including two notorious massacres of Indigenous Bolivians, followed the coup. The coup government targeted journalists and activists, and many former government officials were forced to flee the country or take shelter in embassies. Yet anyone who condemned these events as a “coup” was systematically criticized and harassed on social media.

The Bolivian coup, like Venezuela’s, would also effectively be overturned, but only after a year, through elections that were finally organized only after strikes and popular mobilizations demanding that elections be held. Morales’s Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party won overwhelmingly, making it impossible for the pro-coup right to even make credible claims of election fraud. The elected government is attempting to hold the coup perpetrators accountable for their crimes, but the initial arrests and charging of top officials were promptly condemned by US officials and the likes of Human Rights Watch, who dismissed them as “revenge justice.”

Whether the Bolivian government will be able to successfully hold accountable those who overthrew an elected government, and those who were responsible for the repression and violence that took place under the coup government, is important not just for Bolivia, but for the region. If coup perpetrators rarely face consequences for their crimes, and if the US continues to condemn efforts to hold such individuals to account, there is much incentive and little to dissuade antidemocratic forces in Latin America from continuing to carry out coups.

But if countries in Latin America and the Caribbean work together to oppose extralegal regime changes, and demand consequences when coups are attempted, then perhaps the Latin American coup d’etat will become a relic of the past. There are important lessons from the regional response to the Honduras coup, when a majority of countries in the region loudly rejected the coup and would have overturned it, returning Zelaya to office, had the US not blocked this at the Organization of American States (OAS). The episode brought US-Latin American relations to a historic low and led to the creation of the Committee of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), intended to be an alternative to the OAS, and which included all the countries of the Americas except for the US and Canada.

With the Pink Tide returning, and with the OAS especially tarnished following its disgraceful role in the lead-up to the Bolivia coup, regional integration initiatives like CELAC should be pursued even more vigorously than before. Otherwise, Latin American elites and their allies in the US will continue their attempts to veto democracy, and resort to using the bullet when the ballot doesn’t go their way.

NACLA

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Book Review: International Solidarity in Action: The Relationship Between the United Electrical Workers (UE) and Frente Auténtico del Trabajo, by Robin Alexander

On February 3, workers at a General Motors plant in Silao, Mexico, secured an important victory for organized labor when a huge majority voted to join the Sindicato Independiente Nacional de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de la Industria Automotriz (SINTTIA), an independent labor union. Major international media outlets such as The New York Times and Reuters covered the election, noting its historic importance. Organized labor in Mexico has long been infamous for charro unions, company unions that typically offer workers little actual recourse for improving workplace conditions or in negotiating better compensation. This situation has contributed to prolonged wage stagnation. As the Times reported:

Though the country has become one of the richest in Latin America, its workers still earn among the lowest salaries of almost any nation in the region. One important reason, economists say, is that for decades, Mexican workers have had little say in choosing the unions that represent them.

The SINTTIA victory in Silao comes after decades of hard-fought struggles by independent and democratic labor unions in Mexico that have challenged hostile and sometimes violent anti-unionization campaigns. Their efforts have confronted employers, corrupt and entrenched charro unions, and the system of neoliberal globalization itself, manifest in structures such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) that pit workers in Mexico against their counterparts in the United States and Canada. “These deals were about putting US manufacturing workers in direct competition with much-lower-paid workers in the developing world….” economist (and my colleague) Dean Baker has written. “This also put downward pressure on the wages of the manufacturing workers who kept their jobs, as well as on the wages of less-educated workers more generally, since manufacturing has historically been a source of relatively high-paying employment for workers without college degrees.”

The effects of 28 years of NAFTA — and its successor, the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement — on Mexico should surprise no one. As NAFTA was being debated in the early 1990s, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari claimed that the trade and investment arrangement would make Mexico a “first world” country and lift living standards up closer to those in the United States and Canada. But after 20 years, the poverty rate in Mexico was higher than in 1994 when NAFTA first went into effect.

Now that Mexico’s workers are having more of a say in choosing their union representation, will they finally start to see real improvements in how they live? It’s an important step in obtaining and exercising more power and agency to make further demands on the business sector and the government, and it is the latest chapter in a history of labor organizing and campaigns going back 30 years. International labor solidarity is also an important part of this story.

The new e-book, International Solidarity in Action: The Relationship Between the United Electrical Workers (UE) and Frente Auténtico del Trabajo, by Robin Alexander tells some of this history from a first-hand perspective. As the first International Affairs Director of the UE, Alexander was there at the start of cross-border labor union campaigning against NAFTA, through to the deal’s 20-year anniversary. It was their shared opposition to NAFTA that led the UE and the FAT, both independent unions, to develop a close working relationship, beginning in 1992. As Alexander details, the bonds between the two unions soon became much closer, and their combined efforts came to include support for shop organizing, strike support, fundraising, labor law reform, and other activities. Along the way, the FAT and other independent unions in Mexico scored historic victories, leading eventually to the labor law reforms that made organizing wins, like the one at Silao, possible. These included holding the first secret-ballot union election in Mexico’s history (in the early ‘90s), and, along with the UE and other unions such as the Teamsters, lodging some of the first complaints under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), NAFTA’s labor side-agreement, in attempts to defend workers’ rights (in 1994).

The UE and the FAT would seem to be natural partners. Both are highly democratic in structure, with rank-and-file governance, and both are independent of labor union federations that might exert influence or control over their decisions and activities. This has allowed the unions to be out front in important struggles, and early labor opposition to NAFTA was one such case. The FAT was the only Mexican union to go to an initial, important pan-North American labor meeting in 1992 to organize against NAFTA. The UE, one of the only industrial unions to survive the McCarthy era purges of communists from US labor, and which did not cooperate with the related witch hunts at the time, has long been independent of the major US-Canadian union federation, the AFL-CIO. It was also one of the first unions to begin organizing across borders against NAFTA.

The reluctance of the AFL-CIO — as well as the Canadian Labor Congress — to partner with the FAT, even against as serious a threat as NAFTA, was itself a legacy of Cold War thinking and practice, stemming from the AFL-CIO and CLC belonging to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). Unlike the FAT, ICFTU Mexican labor partner the Confederación de Trabajadores de Mexico, which was closely aligned with Salinas’s political party (the PRI), supported NAFTA. The AFL-CIO would soon abandon this self-defeating stance and also partner with the FAT — an early example of how UE-FAT solidarity would lead to important changes.

Solidarity in practice

Alexander recounts many examples of how exchanges between the two unions, and others in Canada, Japan, India, and elsewhere, enabled various forms of direct and concrete solidarity. These included meetings, speaking tours, shop visits, and other in-person travel that both gave rank-and-file members a political education and fostered solidarity and comradery among union members. These interactions often led US and Canadian unionists to abandon previously xenophobic ideas about immigration and its root causes. “ONLY through a serious, concerted member-to-member international solidarity effort will US workers understand that their boss at home is the same boss of workers abroad and then take the next step to link arms with these workers in an active international expression that ‘An injury to one IS an injury to all,’” Alexander quotes former UE president Peter Knowlton as saying.

Sometimes cross-border solidarity resulted in concrete advances for FAT members. Alexander describes how fundraising by UE members in a campaign called “Buck-a-Brick” helped to construct a new union hall for municipal workers in Guerrero, Chihuahua:

This initiative, which came from Local 222…not only raised funds for UE’s allies in Mexico but became a mechanism for the local to engage its members and those of other UE locals in discussions about the importance of international solidarity. Each person who donated a dollar received a paper with an image of the number of symbolic bricks he or she had contributed. The campaign was subsequently adopted by UE’s Northeast Region, which proudly presented a check for $1,300 to the FAT representative who attended the UE convention that Fall as a contribution to the next phase of construction of the union hall in Guerrero, Chihuahua. In addition to raising funds for their sister union in Mexico, this effort helped to create a broader understanding of the UE’s international work within the union’s national membership, as well as education on the question of immigration.

International pressure from the UE also led to the reversal of public sector worker layoffs in Guerrero, which Alexander rightly recalls as “some amazingly effective international solidarity.”

As Alexander, a labor attorney, details, all of these efforts and others also facilitated historic changes to Mexican labor law that would pave the way for the growth of independent unions. Initial changes to labor law under former president Felipe Calderon in 2012 were “a serious step backward.” But Mexican union resistance, with international support from the UE and other US and Canadian labor unions — as well as the US and Canadian governments, which have seen Mexico’s pervasive and chronically low wages as an unfair trade advantage — led to the drafting of new, more union-friendly laws under the subsequent administration of Enrique Peña Nieto, and to more reforms under the current Andrés Manuel López Obrador government. Under López Obrador, following the renegotiation of NAFTA, workers have challenged unfair labor practices via the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, often with the support of unions in the United States and Canada.

These landmark reforms are the result of 30 years of struggle for more democratic unions, democratic workplaces, and the freedom for workers to choose independent union representation. While Mexican workers and their independent unions have definitely been the driving forces in pushing through meaningful and lasting advances for labor, international solidarity has been an important factor as well. As with countless other examples of societal advances through collective action, this is a history that might not be told accurately and honestly, if at all, except by those who were there. Robin Alexander’s account is a valuable people’s history, told from the US side, filled with examples to be emulated, some pitfalls to avoid, and above all, boundless inspiration.

NACLA

See article on original site

Book Review: International Solidarity in Action: The Relationship Between the United Electrical Workers (UE) and Frente Auténtico del Trabajo, by Robin Alexander

On February 3, workers at a General Motors plant in Silao, Mexico, secured an important victory for organized labor when a huge majority voted to join the Sindicato Independiente Nacional de Trabajadores y Trabajadoras de la Industria Automotriz (SINTTIA), an independent labor union. Major international media outlets such as The New York Times and Reuters covered the election, noting its historic importance. Organized labor in Mexico has long been infamous for charro unions, company unions that typically offer workers little actual recourse for improving workplace conditions or in negotiating better compensation. This situation has contributed to prolonged wage stagnation. As the Times reported:

Though the country has become one of the richest in Latin America, its workers still earn among the lowest salaries of almost any nation in the region. One important reason, economists say, is that for decades, Mexican workers have had little say in choosing the unions that represent them.

The SINTTIA victory in Silao comes after decades of hard-fought struggles by independent and democratic labor unions in Mexico that have challenged hostile and sometimes violent anti-unionization campaigns. Their efforts have confronted employers, corrupt and entrenched charro unions, and the system of neoliberal globalization itself, manifest in structures such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) that pit workers in Mexico against their counterparts in the United States and Canada. “These deals were about putting US manufacturing workers in direct competition with much-lower-paid workers in the developing world….” economist (and my colleague) Dean Baker has written. “This also put downward pressure on the wages of the manufacturing workers who kept their jobs, as well as on the wages of less-educated workers more generally, since manufacturing has historically been a source of relatively high-paying employment for workers without college degrees.”

The effects of 28 years of NAFTA — and its successor, the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement — on Mexico should surprise no one. As NAFTA was being debated in the early 1990s, Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari claimed that the trade and investment arrangement would make Mexico a “first world” country and lift living standards up closer to those in the United States and Canada. But after 20 years, the poverty rate in Mexico was higher than in 1994 when NAFTA first went into effect.

Now that Mexico’s workers are having more of a say in choosing their union representation, will they finally start to see real improvements in how they live? It’s an important step in obtaining and exercising more power and agency to make further demands on the business sector and the government, and it is the latest chapter in a history of labor organizing and campaigns going back 30 years. International labor solidarity is also an important part of this story.

The new e-book, International Solidarity in Action: The Relationship Between the United Electrical Workers (UE) and Frente Auténtico del Trabajo, by Robin Alexander tells some of this history from a first-hand perspective. As the first International Affairs Director of the UE, Alexander was there at the start of cross-border labor union campaigning against NAFTA, through to the deal’s 20-year anniversary. It was their shared opposition to NAFTA that led the UE and the FAT, both independent unions, to develop a close working relationship, beginning in 1992. As Alexander details, the bonds between the two unions soon became much closer, and their combined efforts came to include support for shop organizing, strike support, fundraising, labor law reform, and other activities. Along the way, the FAT and other independent unions in Mexico scored historic victories, leading eventually to the labor law reforms that made organizing wins, like the one at Silao, possible. These included holding the first secret-ballot union election in Mexico’s history (in the early ‘90s), and, along with the UE and other unions such as the Teamsters, lodging some of the first complaints under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), NAFTA’s labor side-agreement, in attempts to defend workers’ rights (in 1994).

The UE and the FAT would seem to be natural partners. Both are highly democratic in structure, with rank-and-file governance, and both are independent of labor union federations that might exert influence or control over their decisions and activities. This has allowed the unions to be out front in important struggles, and early labor opposition to NAFTA was one such case. The FAT was the only Mexican union to go to an initial, important pan-North American labor meeting in 1992 to organize against NAFTA. The UE, one of the only industrial unions to survive the McCarthy era purges of communists from US labor, and which did not cooperate with the related witch hunts at the time, has long been independent of the major US-Canadian union federation, the AFL-CIO. It was also one of the first unions to begin organizing across borders against NAFTA.

The reluctance of the AFL-CIO — as well as the Canadian Labor Congress — to partner with the FAT, even against as serious a threat as NAFTA, was itself a legacy of Cold War thinking and practice, stemming from the AFL-CIO and CLC belonging to the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). Unlike the FAT, ICFTU Mexican labor partner the Confederación de Trabajadores de Mexico, which was closely aligned with Salinas’s political party (the PRI), supported NAFTA. The AFL-CIO would soon abandon this self-defeating stance and also partner with the FAT — an early example of how UE-FAT solidarity would lead to important changes.

Solidarity in practice

Alexander recounts many examples of how exchanges between the two unions, and others in Canada, Japan, India, and elsewhere, enabled various forms of direct and concrete solidarity. These included meetings, speaking tours, shop visits, and other in-person travel that both gave rank-and-file members a political education and fostered solidarity and comradery among union members. These interactions often led US and Canadian unionists to abandon previously xenophobic ideas about immigration and its root causes. “ONLY through a serious, concerted member-to-member international solidarity effort will US workers understand that their boss at home is the same boss of workers abroad and then take the next step to link arms with these workers in an active international expression that ‘An injury to one IS an injury to all,’” Alexander quotes former UE president Peter Knowlton as saying.

Sometimes cross-border solidarity resulted in concrete advances for FAT members. Alexander describes how fundraising by UE members in a campaign called “Buck-a-Brick” helped to construct a new union hall for municipal workers in Guerrero, Chihuahua:

This initiative, which came from Local 222…not only raised funds for UE’s allies in Mexico but became a mechanism for the local to engage its members and those of other UE locals in discussions about the importance of international solidarity. Each person who donated a dollar received a paper with an image of the number of symbolic bricks he or she had contributed. The campaign was subsequently adopted by UE’s Northeast Region, which proudly presented a check for $1,300 to the FAT representative who attended the UE convention that Fall as a contribution to the next phase of construction of the union hall in Guerrero, Chihuahua. In addition to raising funds for their sister union in Mexico, this effort helped to create a broader understanding of the UE’s international work within the union’s national membership, as well as education on the question of immigration.

International pressure from the UE also led to the reversal of public sector worker layoffs in Guerrero, which Alexander rightly recalls as “some amazingly effective international solidarity.”

As Alexander, a labor attorney, details, all of these efforts and others also facilitated historic changes to Mexican labor law that would pave the way for the growth of independent unions. Initial changes to labor law under former president Felipe Calderon in 2012 were “a serious step backward.” But Mexican union resistance, with international support from the UE and other US and Canadian labor unions — as well as the US and Canadian governments, which have seen Mexico’s pervasive and chronically low wages as an unfair trade advantage — led to the drafting of new, more union-friendly laws under the subsequent administration of Enrique Peña Nieto, and to more reforms under the current Andrés Manuel López Obrador government. Under López Obrador, following the renegotiation of NAFTA, workers have challenged unfair labor practices via the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, often with the support of unions in the United States and Canada.

These landmark reforms are the result of 30 years of struggle for more democratic unions, democratic workplaces, and the freedom for workers to choose independent union representation. While Mexican workers and their independent unions have definitely been the driving forces in pushing through meaningful and lasting advances for labor, international solidarity has been an important factor as well. As with countless other examples of societal advances through collective action, this is a history that might not be told accurately and honestly, if at all, except by those who were there. Robin Alexander’s account is a valuable people’s history, told from the US side, filled with examples to be emulated, some pitfalls to avoid, and above all, boundless inspiration.

On January 27, Xiomara Castro was sworn in as president of Honduras after a decisive win in the November 28, 2021 general election. The incoming government inherits an economy struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as from two devastating hurricanes in 2020. Even without these crises, the situation is challenging: the 2009 coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Castro’s husband, Manuel Zelaya (2006–2009), was followed by 12 years of National Party rule marred by endemic corruption, electoral fraud and interference, social unrest, and violent state-led repression.

In 2009, 2013, and 2017, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) published research on the evolving social and economic situations in Honduras. This post will do the same, in order to provide more context to Castro’s historic inauguration.

Economic growth: From 2006 to 2008, Honduras experienced steady annual per capita GDP growth averaging 3.3 percent[1], higher than in El Salvador and Guatemala, but significantly less than in Costa Rica.

In the decade following the 2009 coup in Honduras and the global recession (2010–2019), Honduras averaged per capita GDP growth of just 1.8 percent per year, higher than Guatemala, but below El Salvador and Costa Rica. However, the decline in average per capita GDP growth from the pre-coup period to the post-coup period was 1.5 percentage points, the largest drop among these countries, except for Costa Rica.

In 2020, under the weight of the pandemic-induced recession, the Honduran economy contracted more heavily than all of these Central American neighbors, seeing a drop in per capita GDP of more than 10.5 percent. This was also due in part to the economic effects of Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which hit Honduras less than two weeks apart in November 2020.

Despite a partial recovery in 2021 — outpaced by neighboring Guatemala and El Salvador, though slightly stronger than Costa Rica — Honduras’s per capita GDP in 2021 was still lower than it was as far back as 2015.

Poverty:[2] Addressing poverty will be an important task for the Castro administration. Poverty trended downward in the 2005–2009 pre-coup era, dipping below 60 percent. But after the coup, from 2010 to 2018, the number of households living in poverty remained above 60 percent. This figure reached as high as 66.5 percent in 2012 before trending downward to 59.3 percent in 2019.

The pandemic and its subsequent economic recession erased those modest gains, however. As noted in a Honduran government estimate from July 2021, the poverty rate reached as high as 73.6 percent, with 53.7 percent of households in extreme poverty, the highest level for both measures in the entire period from 2005 to 2021.

Income inequality: Honduras was a very unequal country in the pre-coup era, and has remained that way since. This is evident when looking at income share received by the lowest 20 percent of the population versus the highest 20 percent of the population, for the latest year available. In 2019, the poorest 20 percent received 3.6 percent of income, while the richest 20 percent received 52.2 percent — almost 15 times as much.

As seen in the figure below, the income share for the richest 20 percent generally trended downward from 2005 to 2019, dropping a total of 10.7 percentage points. For the poorest 20 percent, the income share had a modest trend upward over the same period, rising 1.7 percentage points.

However, these modest reductions in inequality were concentrated in the pre-coup era. The income share for the poorest 20 percent rose by 74 percent (1.4 percentage points) from 2005 to 2009, yet it only rose by 9 percent (0.3 percentage points) over the next 10 years.

The losses for the richest 20 percent also slowed after the coup. Pre-coup (2005–2009), the richest 20 percent saw their income share fall by 12 percent (7.5 percentage points). After the coup, it fell by only 6 percent (3.2 percentage points), despite the time period being twice as long (2009–2019).

Unemployment:[3] Headline unemployment figures only provide part of the picture of the labor market, especially in developing countries such as Honduras that have large informal work sectors. The graph below shows total underemployment, which includes unemployment and subemployment.

During the Zelaya administration (2006–2009), unemployment and underemployment generally declined. Unemployment hovered around 3 percent, with total underemployment reaching as low as 35.6 percent in 2008.

In contrast, underemployment trended upwards in the decade since the coup — dropping to pre-coup rates briefly in 2014 — before exploding to 81.6 percent in 2020. Unemployment followed a similar, but more muted trend, before also jumping to 10.9 percent in 2020.

In 2021, these figures decreased, but not enough to reach pre-pandemic levels — much less pre-coup levels.

Underemployment by gender: Again, underemployment by gender follows a pre-coup and postcoup pattern. Pre-coup underemployment for both men and women trended downward. Postcoup, both measures have trended upward. Although women in Honduras have historically experienced a lower underemployment rate than men, the rates became comparable in 2015.

In many countries, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an especially disproportionate impact on women’s participation in the labor force, and this holds true in the case of Honduras. Underemployment among women increased to a shocking 84.6 percent in 2020. This is more than a 20 percentage point increase from 2019, and affected over 385,000 additional women in a country with a total population of less than 5 million women. In contrast, the underemployment rate for men had a much more muted increase in 2020.

In 2021, unemployment for men recovered more significantly than it did for women, suggesting that underemployment for women may remain higher than for men in the near future.

Remittances: Remittances to Honduras — the vast majority of which come from family members living in the United States — represent a significant portion of the Honduran economy. Honduras’s remittances received as a percent of GDP track closely with neighboring El Salvador’s, and are vastly higher than both Guatemala and Costa Rica’s — the latter being a country in which remittances play a very small role in the economy. This reflects, in part, decades of migration flows from Honduras and El Salvador due to poor social and economic conditions and increased insecurity.

After hovering around 20 percent of the country’s GDP prior to the global recession and the coup and then declining in the wake of the global recession in 2009, remittances have steadily increased as a share of Honduras’s GDP since 2012.

That figure could reach as high as 28 percent for 2021, due in part to Honduras’s modest economic growth, as discussed above, and because of an increase in the volume of remittances. It is estimated that from 2020 to 2021 alone, the total value of remittances Hondurans received increased by more than 20 percent.

Expenditures:[4] Since Juan Orlando Hernández took office in 2014, defense and security expenditures have risen steadily as a percent of government spending. This contrasts with social spending on health services and education, which have not experienced similar increases, and even decreased some. In 2019, defense and security spending outpaced health spending.

In 2020 — the first year of the pandemic — education and defense spending declined, while health spending experienced only a modest increase. Though defense spending as a percent of government spending declined a full percentage point from 2019 to 2020 — due in part to a large increase in debt service payments in 2020 — education expenditures saw an even larger decrease over that same time period.

COVID-19:[5] COVID has caused more than 10,000 reported deaths in Honduras since the pandemic began, a mortality rate higher than in both El Salvador and Guatemala. Honduras has managed to vaccinate less than half of its population based on the latest data, which is significantly lower than for Costa Rica and El Salvador, though 15 percentage points higher than for Guatemala.

Public debt: Better management of the country’s debt burden will be an important task for the incoming government, as President Castro noted in her inaugural address. In the pre-coup era, both debt as a percent of GDP and interest payments as a percent of GDP declined and somewhat stabilized.

After the coup and global recession, both debt and interest payments as a percent of GDP generally trended upward and reached highs during the pandemic. Countries for whom interest payments represent a large portion of their external debt service can be in an unsustainable position, especially when the external debt is held mostly in foreign currencies (as is the case in Honduras).

Recent IMF projections for Honduras, however, show Honduras’s debt as a percent of GDP peaking in 2020 before beginning to slowly decline over the next four years.

[1] Data for 2009 are excluded in this graph. Per capita GDP growth figures for that year reflect the effects of the global economic recession.

[2] Honduras defines poverty as those households whose income is less than the cost of the market basket, which includes basic provisions and needs such as housing, education, heath, and transportation. Extreme poverty is a measure of households that have a per capita income below the cost of a basic food basket. In 2020, Honduras released a new methodology for measuring poverty. This new methodology results in a significantly lower poverty rate — by nearly 20 percent — than the original methodology. The above graph employs the original methodology and is consistent with prior CEPR research.

[3] Honduras defines as unemployed all those who are not employed, yet desire to be, and have searched for employment during the four weeks prior to the time of the survey. Underemployment includes unemployment and subemployment. Subemployment is a measure of labor insecurity which includes workers who earn less than the minimum wage or work fewer hours than they would like, and thus provides a more complete picture of the labor market.

[4] Data on 2021 expenditures are not yet available. Expenditures data include central and decentralized government spending.

[5] Excess deaths, instead of deaths per 100,000 people, would likely be a more accurate measure of mortality due to the pandemic. However, excess deaths data for many countries, including Honduras, are not widely available. Because Costa Rica is about 3.5 times richer than Honduras on a per capita GDP basis, and a little less than 2.5 times richer than El Salvador and Guatemala, it may have health infrastructure that more accurately accounts for COVID-19 mortality. This might suggest that El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras’s performance in preventing COVID-19 deaths is overstated when compared to Costa Rica.

On January 27, Xiomara Castro was sworn in as president of Honduras after a decisive win in the November 28, 2021 general election. The incoming government inherits an economy struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic as well as from two devastating hurricanes in 2020. Even without these crises, the situation is challenging: the 2009 coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Castro’s husband, Manuel Zelaya (2006–2009), was followed by 12 years of National Party rule marred by endemic corruption, electoral fraud and interference, social unrest, and violent state-led repression.

In 2009, 2013, and 2017, the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) published research on the evolving social and economic situations in Honduras. This post will do the same, in order to provide more context to Castro’s historic inauguration.

Economic growth: From 2006 to 2008, Honduras experienced steady annual per capita GDP growth averaging 3.3 percent[1], higher than in El Salvador and Guatemala, but significantly less than in Costa Rica.

In the decade following the 2009 coup in Honduras and the global recession (2010–2019), Honduras averaged per capita GDP growth of just 1.8 percent per year, higher than Guatemala, but below El Salvador and Costa Rica. However, the decline in average per capita GDP growth from the pre-coup period to the post-coup period was 1.5 percentage points, the largest drop among these countries, except for Costa Rica.

In 2020, under the weight of the pandemic-induced recession, the Honduran economy contracted more heavily than all of these Central American neighbors, seeing a drop in per capita GDP of more than 10.5 percent. This was also due in part to the economic effects of Hurricanes Eta and Iota, which hit Honduras less than two weeks apart in November 2020.

Despite a partial recovery in 2021 — outpaced by neighboring Guatemala and El Salvador, though slightly stronger than Costa Rica — Honduras’s per capita GDP in 2021 was still lower than it was as far back as 2015.

Poverty:[2] Addressing poverty will be an important task for the Castro administration. Poverty trended downward in the 2005–2009 pre-coup era, dipping below 60 percent. But after the coup, from 2010 to 2018, the number of households living in poverty remained above 60 percent. This figure reached as high as 66.5 percent in 2012 before trending downward to 59.3 percent in 2019.

The pandemic and its subsequent economic recession erased those modest gains, however. As noted in a Honduran government estimate from July 2021, the poverty rate reached as high as 73.6 percent, with 53.7 percent of households in extreme poverty, the highest level for both measures in the entire period from 2005 to 2021.

Income inequality: Honduras was a very unequal country in the pre-coup era, and has remained that way since. This is evident when looking at income share received by the lowest 20 percent of the population versus the highest 20 percent of the population, for the latest year available. In 2019, the poorest 20 percent received 3.6 percent of income, while the richest 20 percent received 52.2 percent — almost 15 times as much.

As seen in the figure below, the income share for the richest 20 percent generally trended downward from 2005 to 2019, dropping a total of 10.7 percentage points. For the poorest 20 percent, the income share had a modest trend upward over the same period, rising 1.7 percentage points.

However, these modest reductions in inequality were concentrated in the pre-coup era. The income share for the poorest 20 percent rose by 74 percent (1.4 percentage points) from 2005 to 2009, yet it only rose by 9 percent (0.3 percentage points) over the next 10 years.

The losses for the richest 20 percent also slowed after the coup. Pre-coup (2005–2009), the richest 20 percent saw their income share fall by 12 percent (7.5 percentage points). After the coup, it fell by only 6 percent (3.2 percentage points), despite the time period being twice as long (2009–2019).

Unemployment:[3] Headline unemployment figures only provide part of the picture of the labor market, especially in developing countries such as Honduras that have large informal work sectors. The graph below shows total underemployment, which includes unemployment and subemployment.

During the Zelaya administration (2006–2009), unemployment and underemployment generally declined. Unemployment hovered around 3 percent, with total underemployment reaching as low as 35.6 percent in 2008.

In contrast, underemployment trended upwards in the decade since the coup — dropping to pre-coup rates briefly in 2014 — before exploding to 81.6 percent in 2020. Unemployment followed a similar, but more muted trend, before also jumping to 10.9 percent in 2020.

In 2021, these figures decreased, but not enough to reach pre-pandemic levels — much less pre-coup levels.

Underemployment by gender: Again, underemployment by gender follows a pre-coup and postcoup pattern. Pre-coup underemployment for both men and women trended downward. Postcoup, both measures have trended upward. Although women in Honduras have historically experienced a lower underemployment rate than men, the rates became comparable in 2015.

In many countries, the COVID-19 pandemic has had an especially disproportionate impact on women’s participation in the labor force, and this holds true in the case of Honduras. Underemployment among women increased to a shocking 84.6 percent in 2020. This is more than a 20 percentage point increase from 2019, and affected over 385,000 additional women in a country with a total population of less than 5 million women. In contrast, the underemployment rate for men had a much more muted increase in 2020.

In 2021, unemployment for men recovered more significantly than it did for women, suggesting that underemployment for women may remain higher than for men in the near future.

Remittances: Remittances to Honduras — the vast majority of which come from family members living in the United States — represent a significant portion of the Honduran economy. Honduras’s remittances received as a percent of GDP track closely with neighboring El Salvador’s, and are vastly higher than both Guatemala and Costa Rica’s — the latter being a country in which remittances play a very small role in the economy. This reflects, in part, decades of migration flows from Honduras and El Salvador due to poor social and economic conditions and increased insecurity.

After hovering around 20 percent of the country’s GDP prior to the global recession and the coup and then declining in the wake of the global recession in 2009, remittances have steadily increased as a share of Honduras’s GDP since 2012.

That figure could reach as high as 28 percent for 2021, due in part to Honduras’s modest economic growth, as discussed above, and because of an increase in the volume of remittances. It is estimated that from 2020 to 2021 alone, the total value of remittances Hondurans received increased by more than 20 percent.

Expenditures:[4] Since Juan Orlando Hernández took office in 2014, defense and security expenditures have risen steadily as a percent of government spending. This contrasts with social spending on health services and education, which have not experienced similar increases, and even decreased some. In 2019, defense and security spending outpaced health spending.

In 2020 — the first year of the pandemic — education and defense spending declined, while health spending experienced only a modest increase. Though defense spending as a percent of government spending declined a full percentage point from 2019 to 2020 — due in part to a large increase in debt service payments in 2020 — education expenditures saw an even larger decrease over that same time period.

COVID-19:[5] COVID has caused more than 10,000 reported deaths in Honduras since the pandemic began, a mortality rate higher than in both El Salvador and Guatemala. Honduras has managed to vaccinate less than half of its population based on the latest data, which is significantly lower than for Costa Rica and El Salvador, though 15 percentage points higher than for Guatemala.

Public debt: Better management of the country’s debt burden will be an important task for the incoming government, as President Castro noted in her inaugural address. In the pre-coup era, both debt as a percent of GDP and interest payments as a percent of GDP declined and somewhat stabilized.

After the coup and global recession, both debt and interest payments as a percent of GDP generally trended upward and reached highs during the pandemic. Countries for whom interest payments represent a large portion of their external debt service can be in an unsustainable position, especially when the external debt is held mostly in foreign currencies (as is the case in Honduras).

Recent IMF projections for Honduras, however, show Honduras’s debt as a percent of GDP peaking in 2020 before beginning to slowly decline over the next four years.

[1] Data for 2009 are excluded in this graph. Per capita GDP growth figures for that year reflect the effects of the global economic recession.

[2] Honduras defines poverty as those households whose income is less than the cost of the market basket, which includes basic provisions and needs such as housing, education, heath, and transportation. Extreme poverty is a measure of households that have a per capita income below the cost of a basic food basket. In 2020, Honduras released a new methodology for measuring poverty. This new methodology results in a significantly lower poverty rate — by nearly 20 percent — than the original methodology. The above graph employs the original methodology and is consistent with prior CEPR research.

[3] Honduras defines as unemployed all those who are not employed, yet desire to be, and have searched for employment during the four weeks prior to the time of the survey. Underemployment includes unemployment and subemployment. Subemployment is a measure of labor insecurity which includes workers who earn less than the minimum wage or work fewer hours than they would like, and thus provides a more complete picture of the labor market.

[4] Data on 2021 expenditures are not yet available. Expenditures data include central and decentralized government spending.

[5] Excess deaths, instead of deaths per 100,000 people, would likely be a more accurate measure of mortality due to the pandemic. However, excess deaths data for many countries, including Honduras, are not widely available. Because Costa Rica is about 3.5 times richer than Honduras on a per capita GDP basis, and a little less than 2.5 times richer than El Salvador and Guatemala, it may have health infrastructure that more accurately accounts for COVID-19 mortality. This might suggest that El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras’s performance in preventing COVID-19 deaths is overstated when compared to Costa Rica.

Book Review: Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels by Ioan Grillo

In August, the Mexican government sued US gunmakers for facilitating the high gun homicide rate in Mexico. Most people in the US who heard this news were probably confused, not understanding what US gunmakers have to do with homicides in Mexico. If they were to read Ioan Grillo’s excellent book, Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels, they would understand completely. They would learn that Mexican law enforcement estimates that 2.5 million guns have been smuggled from the United States into Mexico over the past decade. They might even wonder why other countries in Latin America aren’t also suing US gunmakers.

The Americas is the most homicidal region on the planet due, in no small part, to the “iron river” of guns flowing from the United States to Latin America and the Caribbean. The above figure from Our World in Data, based on data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, shows that Canada had a gun homicide rate of 0.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2017. In the US, the rate was 4.63, approaching 10 times the rate in Canada, while in Mexico, it was 11.49, more than 20 times the Canada rate. Excluding the Americas, all countries in Europe, and most countries in the rest of the world had lower gun homicide rates than the US. (Some people incorrectly believe that there is a higher rate of gun ownership in Canada than in the US, but the Small Arms Survey reports that in 2017 Canada had 34.7 guns per 100 residents, compared to 120.5 in the United States. The gun ownership rate in the US is more than three times the rate in Canada.)

Criminals in Latin America and the Caribbean have easy access to US guns because US gun-rights extremists are continually weakening our gun safety laws, making it easier for gun traffickers. Grillo quotes the US Department of Justice: “There is no federal statute specifically prohibiting firearms trafficking.” Only tangential laws can be used against trafficking. Although the second and third words of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution indicate that guns should be “well regulated,” the US Supreme Court has recently only stripped away the government’s power to regulate guns, ignoring the actual words of the amendment. Grillo informs us that US pharmacies have stronger safety and security requirements than US gun stores.

In Mexico, there is only one legal gun shop in the entire country, and it is very difficult, if not impossible, for criminals to obtain guns from this shop. In the US, however, criminals can purchase guns with extreme ease. It is simple for a known criminal to pay someone — a “straw buyer” — to buy a weapon for them. The criminal can even buy guns directly from private sellers, who do not need to do background checks; known criminals, and even terrorists, face no obstacles.

One of Grillo’s Mexican informants, Jorge, thought that he was making an illegal purchase when he bought guns for a Mexican criminal gang at US gun shows without showing identification. But all of Jorge’s purchases were legal because of the “gun show loophole” which exempts private sellers from conducting background checks. “It really was possible to walk into a gun show and buy an AR-15 [military-style assault rifle] with no paperwork,” Grillo discovered on a trip to a gun show in Texas. There, Grillo noted, “On various tables, so-called private sellers had dozens of weapons, including many AR-15s and Kalashnikovs. Many looked brand-new, with some boxed up.” Although there can be little difference between the inventory of so-called private sellers of guns and licensed gun dealers, private sellers are unregulated, while licensed dealers have to try to do background checks.  

Licensed dealers have to try to do background checks, but a completed background check is not required for a sale. If the background check is not completed within three business days, the dealer can sell the gun to the purchaser without proof that the purchaser is legally eligible to own a gun. Dylan Roof, the white racist who shot and killed nine Black people in South Carolina while they prayed in church, was prohibited from obtaining a firearm. The FBI was not able to complete his background check within the three-day limit, and so he was able to obtain the gun that he used to kill the parishioners. This is another example of how pathetically weak US gun safety laws are.

Grillo was able to speak with several people in the US and Mexico involved in purchasing guns for criminals. A Mexican gang hit man informed Grillo, “[Our guns] come from El Paso [a city in Texas bordering Mexico] . . . . We get them on demand, and anything we want come from there.” And by anything, he means almost anything. In recent years, Mexican drug cartels have even purchased .50 caliber sniper rifles, which are powerful enough to shoot through concrete walls. Grillo describes the .50 caliber:

These supersize weapons fire bullets the size of small knives, and army snipers use them to shoot long distance and blow through armor. Despite their military potential, customers can buy them in stores in Texas and Arizona as easily as buying a pistol.

Customers buying .50 calibers in Texas and Arizona include people like Jorge who work for Mexican drug cartels.

This ease of access to AR-15s, .50 calibers, and other guns means that local Mexican police are literally outgunned. US guns help to undermine the power of the Mexican government to secure the safety of its citizens and to prosecute crime. US guns are also being used to kill journalists who report on crime in Mexico. Mexican journalist Miroslava Breach was shot with a gun from the US gun manufacturer Colt — a limited edition Colt .38 engraved with the image of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. “An American gun with a picture of a Mexican freedom fighter was used to try to silence Mexico’s freedom of speech,” observes Grillo.

Grillo reports, “Of the 16,343 firearms that Mexico submitted to the ATF [the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives] for tracing in 2018, 70.4 percent were definitively confirmed to have been made or sold in the United States.” He makes clear that the US share could be higher because some searches are inconclusive, in part because US law prevents the ATF from using computerized systems. Yes, the ATF is prohibited from establishing a gun database, so a search that should take a few seconds with a computer database instead involves searching for several days through mountains of paper files.

While Grillo’s main focus is the trafficking of guns from US states on the US-Mexico border into Mexico, he also discusses gun trafficking within the United States, and between the US and other Latin American countries and the Caribbean. For example, Grillo reports, “between 2014 and 2017, almost half, or 45 percent, of the firearms that Honduras submitted to the ATF for tracing were confirmed to be made or sold in the United States.” Again, this is likely to be an underestimate because some inconclusive trace results are probably also from the US. Honduras had a firearm murder rate of 26.14 deaths per 100,000 in 2017 — more than 50 times the Canadian rate. Grillo notes, “Honduras [is the] home of the biggest number of refugees arriving at the southern U.S. border.” This broader discussion makes it clear that US-Mexico gun trafficking is only one example of a much wider problem.

The lawlessness and terror enabled, in part, by the trafficking of US guns causes people to flee Latin America and the Caribbean for the relative safety of the United States. When people in the US are distressed by refugees at the southern US border, they should be aware that many of these refugees are fleeing criminals armed with guns legally purchased in the United States.

Blood Gun Money includes a lot of information about gun trafficking in the Americas, but it is also filled with stories of people on both sides of the law, police and criminals, murderers and gun victims. It is a well-researched, well-written, and informative book.

Grillo concludes with several policy recommendations to reduce the easy flow of guns to criminals on both sides of the US-Mexico border. He calls for universal background checks: a criminal who is prohibited from owning a gun should not be able to go to a private seller and purchase a gun because no background check is required. Grillo also thinks that there should be stronger punishments for straw buyers, who currently face minimal punishment. Grillo recommends limits on the number of guns a person can purchase at one time, which would likely make it easier to identify and differentiate straw buyers from real buyers since straw buyers would not be able to buy 10 identical Kalashnikovs at the same time, to use a real-life example discussed in Blood Gun Money. Grillo calls for the United States to regulate “ghost guns” as real guns. Ghost guns require some assembly before they are functional, and are popular among criminals because by law they are not considered guns and therefore can be obtained without a background check. They also don’t have serial numbers so they are harder for police to track. And Grillo proposes stronger regulation of gun shop security, as some criminals obtain guns by stealing them from shops with weak security. Grillo has other policy ideas that may make a lot of sense to people who are not gun-rights extremists.

In the US, such extremists tend to view the government as the enemy and support the weakening of gun regulations, which makes it easier for criminals and terrorists to obtain weapons. These individuals sometimes say it is their AR-15 that preserves their “freedom.” Grillo suggests these individuals take a close look at criminal gangs in Latin America. He writes:

But it is not those guns in civilian hands that make the difference between the United States and Latin America—it is institutions. Most Americans are not safe from a cartel storming their home to kidnap them because they have an AR-15. They are safe because the police and federal agencies have been hammering organized crime for decades. In Mexico, you see what a cartel hit squad looks like, and it is not something that you can stop on your own if they come for you, even if you have a bunch of guns.

US gun extremists say that by opposing gun safety laws they are making people in the US freer, but what they are really doing is making it easier for criminals to murder, terrorize, and traumatize law-abiding people in high-crime communities in the United States, and even more so people in countries with weaker institutions south of the US border.

The Mexican suit against US gun manufacturers is a desperate attempt to try to reduce the “iron river” of guns flowing into Mexico. The Mexican government cannot turn to US laws on gun trafficking to stop the flow, since US gun safety laws are a joke. One hopes that, at the very least, the suit will bring attention to the US role in making the Americas the most homicidal region on the planet. If people in the United States are aware of this problem, maybe more of them will demand more sensible gun laws from policymakers.

Book Review: Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels by Ioan Grillo

In August, the Mexican government sued US gunmakers for facilitating the high gun homicide rate in Mexico. Most people in the US who heard this news were probably confused, not understanding what US gunmakers have to do with homicides in Mexico. If they were to read Ioan Grillo’s excellent book, Blood Gun Money: How America Arms Gangs and Cartels, they would understand completely. They would learn that Mexican law enforcement estimates that 2.5 million guns have been smuggled from the United States into Mexico over the past decade. They might even wonder why other countries in Latin America aren’t also suing US gunmakers.

The Americas is the most homicidal region on the planet due, in no small part, to the “iron river” of guns flowing from the United States to Latin America and the Caribbean. The above figure from Our World in Data, based on data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, shows that Canada had a gun homicide rate of 0.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2017. In the US, the rate was 4.63, approaching 10 times the rate in Canada, while in Mexico, it was 11.49, more than 20 times the Canada rate. Excluding the Americas, all countries in Europe, and most countries in the rest of the world had lower gun homicide rates than the US. (Some people incorrectly believe that there is a higher rate of gun ownership in Canada than in the US, but the Small Arms Survey reports that in 2017 Canada had 34.7 guns per 100 residents, compared to 120.5 in the United States. The gun ownership rate in the US is more than three times the rate in Canada.)

Criminals in Latin America and the Caribbean have easy access to US guns because US gun-rights extremists are continually weakening our gun safety laws, making it easier for gun traffickers. Grillo quotes the US Department of Justice: “There is no federal statute specifically prohibiting firearms trafficking.” Only tangential laws can be used against trafficking. Although the second and third words of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution indicate that guns should be “well regulated,” the US Supreme Court has recently only stripped away the government’s power to regulate guns, ignoring the actual words of the amendment. Grillo informs us that US pharmacies have stronger safety and security requirements than US gun stores.

In Mexico, there is only one legal gun shop in the entire country, and it is very difficult, if not impossible, for criminals to obtain guns from this shop. In the US, however, criminals can purchase guns with extreme ease. It is simple for a known criminal to pay someone — a “straw buyer” — to buy a weapon for them. The criminal can even buy guns directly from private sellers, who do not need to do background checks; known criminals, and even terrorists, face no obstacles.

One of Grillo’s Mexican informants, Jorge, thought that he was making an illegal purchase when he bought guns for a Mexican criminal gang at US gun shows without showing identification. But all of Jorge’s purchases were legal because of the “gun show loophole” which exempts private sellers from conducting background checks. “It really was possible to walk into a gun show and buy an AR-15 [military-style assault rifle] with no paperwork,” Grillo discovered on a trip to a gun show in Texas. There, Grillo noted, “On various tables, so-called private sellers had dozens of weapons, including many AR-15s and Kalashnikovs. Many looked brand-new, with some boxed up.” Although there can be little difference between the inventory of so-called private sellers of guns and licensed gun dealers, private sellers are unregulated, while licensed dealers have to try to do background checks.  

Licensed dealers have to try to do background checks, but a completed background check is not required for a sale. If the background check is not completed within three business days, the dealer can sell the gun to the purchaser without proof that the purchaser is legally eligible to own a gun. Dylan Roof, the white racist who shot and killed nine Black people in South Carolina while they prayed in church, was prohibited from obtaining a firearm. The FBI was not able to complete his background check within the three-day limit, and so he was able to obtain the gun that he used to kill the parishioners. This is another example of how pathetically weak US gun safety laws are.

Grillo was able to speak with several people in the US and Mexico involved in purchasing guns for criminals. A Mexican gang hit man informed Grillo, “[Our guns] come from El Paso [a city in Texas bordering Mexico] . . . . We get them on demand, and anything we want come from there.” And by anything, he means almost anything. In recent years, Mexican drug cartels have even purchased .50 caliber sniper rifles, which are powerful enough to shoot through concrete walls. Grillo describes the .50 caliber:

These supersize weapons fire bullets the size of small knives, and army snipers use them to shoot long distance and blow through armor. Despite their military potential, customers can buy them in stores in Texas and Arizona as easily as buying a pistol.

Customers buying .50 calibers in Texas and Arizona include people like Jorge who work for Mexican drug cartels.

This ease of access to AR-15s, .50 calibers, and other guns means that local Mexican police are literally outgunned. US guns help to undermine the power of the Mexican government to secure the safety of its citizens and to prosecute crime. US guns are also being used to kill journalists who report on crime in Mexico. Mexican journalist Miroslava Breach was shot with a gun from the US gun manufacturer Colt — a limited edition Colt .38 engraved with the image of Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. “An American gun with a picture of a Mexican freedom fighter was used to try to silence Mexico’s freedom of speech,” observes Grillo.

Grillo reports, “Of the 16,343 firearms that Mexico submitted to the ATF [the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives] for tracing in 2018, 70.4 percent were definitively confirmed to have been made or sold in the United States.” He makes clear that the US share could be higher because some searches are inconclusive, in part because US law prevents the ATF from using computerized systems. Yes, the ATF is prohibited from establishing a gun database, so a search that should take a few seconds with a computer database instead involves searching for several days through mountains of paper files.

While Grillo’s main focus is the trafficking of guns from US states on the US-Mexico border into Mexico, he also discusses gun trafficking within the United States, and between the US and other Latin American countries and the Caribbean. For example, Grillo reports, “between 2014 and 2017, almost half, or 45 percent, of the firearms that Honduras submitted to the ATF for tracing were confirmed to be made or sold in the United States.” Again, this is likely to be an underestimate because some inconclusive trace results are probably also from the US. Honduras had a firearm murder rate of 26.14 deaths per 100,000 in 2017 — more than 50 times the Canadian rate. Grillo notes, “Honduras [is the] home of the biggest number of refugees arriving at the southern U.S. border.” This broader discussion makes it clear that US-Mexico gun trafficking is only one example of a much wider problem.

The lawlessness and terror enabled, in part, by the trafficking of US guns causes people to flee Latin America and the Caribbean for the relative safety of the United States. When people in the US are distressed by refugees at the southern US border, they should be aware that many of these refugees are fleeing criminals armed with guns legally purchased in the United States.

Blood Gun Money includes a lot of information about gun trafficking in the Americas, but it is also filled with stories of people on both sides of the law, police and criminals, murderers and gun victims. It is a well-researched, well-written, and informative book.

Grillo concludes with several policy recommendations to reduce the easy flow of guns to criminals on both sides of the US-Mexico border. He calls for universal background checks: a criminal who is prohibited from owning a gun should not be able to go to a private seller and purchase a gun because no background check is required. Grillo also thinks that there should be stronger punishments for straw buyers, who currently face minimal punishment. Grillo recommends limits on the number of guns a person can purchase at one time, which would likely make it easier to identify and differentiate straw buyers from real buyers since straw buyers would not be able to buy 10 identical Kalashnikovs at the same time, to use a real-life example discussed in Blood Gun Money. Grillo calls for the United States to regulate “ghost guns” as real guns. Ghost guns require some assembly before they are functional, and are popular among criminals because by law they are not considered guns and therefore can be obtained without a background check. They also don’t have serial numbers so they are harder for police to track. And Grillo proposes stronger regulation of gun shop security, as some criminals obtain guns by stealing them from shops with weak security. Grillo has other policy ideas that may make a lot of sense to people who are not gun-rights extremists.

In the US, such extremists tend to view the government as the enemy and support the weakening of gun regulations, which makes it easier for criminals and terrorists to obtain weapons. These individuals sometimes say it is their AR-15 that preserves their “freedom.” Grillo suggests these individuals take a close look at criminal gangs in Latin America. He writes:

But it is not those guns in civilian hands that make the difference between the United States and Latin America—it is institutions. Most Americans are not safe from a cartel storming their home to kidnap them because they have an AR-15. They are safe because the police and federal agencies have been hammering organized crime for decades. In Mexico, you see what a cartel hit squad looks like, and it is not something that you can stop on your own if they come for you, even if you have a bunch of guns.

US gun extremists say that by opposing gun safety laws they are making people in the US freer, but what they are really doing is making it easier for criminals to murder, terrorize, and traumatize law-abiding people in high-crime communities in the United States, and even more so people in countries with weaker institutions south of the US border.

The Mexican suit against US gun manufacturers is a desperate attempt to try to reduce the “iron river” of guns flowing into Mexico. The Mexican government cannot turn to US laws on gun trafficking to stop the flow, since US gun safety laws are a joke. One hopes that, at the very least, the suit will bring attention to the US role in making the Americas the most homicidal region on the planet. If people in the United States are aware of this problem, maybe more of them will demand more sensible gun laws from policymakers.

10:21 P.M. EST: While Libre Party supporters, and opponents of the governing National Party, celebrate, many observers are still voicing caution. While Castro’s lead in the preliminary results appears decisive, if indeed the 16 percent sample is representative of the total vote, it is worth remembering that early results in 2017 also gave the opposition a significant (although much smaller) lead. As our own Alex Main summarized:

After a long, unexplained delay, the TSE announced that Salvador Nasralla ― candidate of the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship ― was in the lead by 5 points with 57 percent of votes counted. But then the electronic vote count was delayed for more than 30 hours. Over the following days, additional “technical failures” occurred. When the count resumed, Nasralla’s lead gradually evaporated and, by late in the day on November 30, Hernández was ahead by 1.5 percentage points.

Considering this precedent, as well as the many irregularities witnessed today (which we have attempted to document on this blog), continued scrutiny of the tabulation process and the official results is warranted. And irregularities should be investigated by credible authorities.

9:52 EST: Announcing preliminary results based on 2,929 presidential actas that comprise 16.01 percent of the total (18,293), the CNE says Libre Party candidate Xiomara Castro obtained 53.4 percent of the vote, with National Party candidate Nasry Asfura second with 34 percent, and Liberal Party candidate Yani Rosenthal third with 9 percent.

The CNE announces preliminary results in Honduras's 2021 elections.

9:38 P.M. EST: CNE President Kelvin Aguirre announced that over 3 million Honduras voted, meaning voter participation of about 62 percent. Watch the CNE press conference underway here.

9:16 P.M. EST: An exit poll from CESPAD, and another reported by right-wing outlet La Tribuna, give Xiomara Castro a decisive lead.

8:38 P.M. EST: Scattered reports of ongoing Libre presence at voting centers, and diminishing National Party presence, continue. The CNE is supposed to announce preliminary results at 8:00 p.m. Honduras time (9:00 p.m. EST).

CORRECTION: 8:26 P.M. EST: Honduras Now reported how the disenfranchisement and chaos at [one JRV] at the Escuela Republica de Panamá in Buenos Aires, Tegucigalpa concluded:

8:15 P.M. EST: Election observer Burke Bindbeutel sends this photo of presidential ballot counting at the Escuela Republica de Panamá in Buenos Aires, Tegucigalpa. Many voters there reportedly were unable to cast ballots today (see below).

Counting presidential ballots at the the Escuela Republica de Panamá in barrio Buenos Aires Tegucigalpa. Photo: Burke Bindbeutel

7:59 P.M. EST: The US government-funded non-profit organization Association for a More Just Society has told the media it too is concerned by many irregularities today, including that people with invalid identity cards being allowed to vote, ballots lacking stamps put in ballot boxes, and “non-application of indelible ink to voters or inclusion of deceased persons in the electoral roll.” 

7:49 P.M. EST: Honduran national and well-known professor Suyapa Portillo Tweeted earlier this evening that voting was “non-operational” at the consulate in Los Angeles, CA, another example of impediments to voting in the US (see below).

7:37 P.M. EST: An election observer at Instituto España Jesus Milla Silva in Colonia Kennedy, Tegucigalpa reports “Crowds rush the polling site after an onlooker says they saw a stack of IDs during the vote count.”

7:26 P.M. EST: Manuel Zelaya, former president and possibly future first gentleman, announced earlier that the Opposition Alliance will hold a press conference at 8:00 p.m. Honduras time, the same time the CNE is expected to make its first statements after the conclusion of the election.

7:18 P.M. EST: Honduras Now reports:

 

7:15 P.M. EST: An election observer at the CEB Monseñor Jacobo Cáceres in Suyapa, Tegucigalpa reports they are “In a vote count preceding calmly and orderly. The public is standing outside the classroom and watching through the windows as the JRV LIBRE and PN members each look at hold up the ballot for the people outside to see.”

6:19 P.M. EST: The PJE and CESPAD have issued a new alert denouncing obstruction of the voting center at the Escuela Republica de Panamá, Buenos Aires, Tegucigalpa, and apparent conflict between electoral authorities and voters there (see below).

6:12 P.M. EST: Election observers documented the lack of accessibility for disabled people to vote at the Escuela Republica de Panamá, Buenos Aires, Tegucigalpa.

6:07 P.M. EST: Honduran media reported at 6:00 ET that CNE president Kelvin Aguirre said voting will be extended for an extra hour at voting centers where there is unanimous agreement.

5:59 P.M. EST: As voting centers prepare to close, election observers talk to media.

An election observer talks to media

Election observer talking to media

5:42 P.M. EST: The CNE statement denouncing an attack on its web server also calls on candidates and media to abstain from publicly (and illegally) declaring victory or other information about election results, in an apparent reference to the National Party press conference earlier today. The CNE also said that voting should be extended so that the last person still in line will be able to vote, in accordance with Article 265 of the Electoral Law, and that the fingerprint registry shows that 36 percent of eligible voters came out to vote today.

5:19 P.M. EST: Contra Corriente’s Jennifer Avila reported at 4:55 p.m. that the CNE claimed there had been an attack on its web server. The site has been offline throughout the day (see below).

5:16 P.M. EST: An election observer reports: “Ruinas Copan 2801: One hour before closing time. Just over 2/3 of the possible votes are in. Things have pretty much ground to a halt. There are no people outside waiting to vote.”

5:15 P.M. EST: National Party leader Fernando Aduray is blaming alleged incidents of “violence” and disorder on the Libre Party, whom he said want to “generate chaos and anarchy” after learning of the adverse primary results at noon” [presumably the National Party’s much-condemned televised press conference declaring victory]. Aduray also linked the Libre Party with “communism in Venezuela and the Sao Paulo Forum.”

5:05 P.M. EST: The PJE and CESPAD have issued a statement denouncing the “threat of fraud” in public statements made by David Chávez, of the central committee of the National Party, declaring victory before voting has concluded. (See below.)

5:00 P.M. EST: Honduran newspaper El País reportsProblems with some people who are not on the voting lists at the Paz Barahona School in San Pedro Sula.”

4:40 P.M. EST: Election observers at a voting center in in Buenos Aires, Tegucigalpa documented the tense scene outside as party representatives worked to determine a more efficient system to allow the many people waiting, for hours, outside, to vote, while inside there are reportedly JRVs with few voters waiting.

4:30 P.M. EST: Just before 4:00 EST, Nuestra Red and Global Exchange, which both have many observers on the ground in Honduras today, denounced the “buying and selling [of] votes in the department of Francisco Morazán through tickets issued by political activists.”

3:57 P.M. EST: An election observer in Buenos Aires, Tegucigalpa, reports: “Allegations at the Buenos Aires voting center that there is a guy in a blue hat (with a B on it) collaborating with police to only let in people voting for the Partido Nacional.”

A man in a blue hat with a letter B on it allegedly works with police to only allow NP voters into a voting center.

3:41 P.M. EST: An election observer documented very long lines outside a voting center in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Tegucigalpa. “A woman in line told me that they had already been in line for two hours, and that the line isn’t moving at all.  She has worked the polls before, and it’s never been like this.” 

3:33 P.M. EST: An election observer in Lepaera, Lempira sent this photo from inside a voting center:

A voting center in Lepaera, Lempira.

3:22 P.M. EST: Honduran media report that the voting center at the Fraternidad de Villanueva school finally received their technological kit at around 2:00 p.m. local time. Voting center workers had been trying to get the kits since 9:00 a.m. local time.

3:18 P.M. EST: Independent media organization Report Without Fear notes that some voting table supervisors in San Pedro Sula are not stamping ballots prior to depositing them.

3:01 P.M. EST: An election observer documented a lull in voting at Monseñor Cáceres at 2:37 P.M. EST.

"A lull in voting here at Monseñor Cáceres"

2:39 P.M. EST: Honduran TV network HCH broadcast a press conference by governing National Party representatives declaring victory, some four hours before voting centers close. This has drawn condemnation from the Progressive International, among others, who see it as  an “effort to disinform voters, dissuade participation, and endanger democracy in Honduras.” EU Electoral Observation Mission head Željana Zovko has expressed concern about political parties claiming victory already.

2:19 P.M. EST: Right-wing newspaper site La Tribuna posted an article earlier citing the defense secretary as claiming that the armed forces delivered election materials to “each designated place,”  “even in the most remote areas of the country,” But numerous election observer and media reports have shown that this is not true.

2:12 P.M. EST: The CNE census site, which voters rely on to find out their voting location, continues to be offline, drawing complaints and condemnation.

1:44 P.M. EST: The PJE and CESPAD have issued a new alert about election irregularities, including that “at least 17  Voting Table Supervisory Groups” in 5 departments did not receive their technological kits to process votes, that some Voting Table Supervisory Groups do not have equipment to collect fingerprints, and that there are reports of party propaganda inside of 19 voting centers.

1:32 P.M. EST: El Pulso reports, with video, that armed forces closed a voting center in Tela, Atlántida, after a conflict broke out there. 

1:28 P.M. EST: An election observer reports: “At a polling site in Tegucigalpa, a scuffle broke out amid complaints of people taking photos of their ballots in exchange for 5000 Lempiras.”

12:47 P.M. EST: Televicentro HN reported at 12 noon ET that voting kits had finally arrived in Choluteca and Siguatepeque, four hours after voting was supposed to have started.

12:43 P.M. EST: The PJE and CESPAD have issued an alert about election observers being hindered from entering a voting center: “In the Saúl Bueso Castañeda school, a voting center in the municipality of Santa Rita in the department of Copán, the secretary of the Municipal Electoral Council impeded the access of accredited observers of the Youth Electoral Platform into the voting center.”

12:39 P.M. EST: Peninsula 360 Press reports on vote buying, and delays. They interviewed Marco Castillo of Global Exchange, who told the outlet earlier, “We have been observing and, above all, what they are reporting to me is that the whole process is super delayed here in the Colón area…” He also told Peninsula 360 that yesterday they documented a federal government official wearing  a cap promoting a National Party political candidate while making payments for a social program “in the same school” that is serving as a voting center today.

12:24 P.M. EST: Independent media outlet Contra Corriente reports that CESPAD’s Lucía Vijil has witnessed “political patronage” by the ruling National Party, with “state resources being used in voting centers, for example, to buy food in exchange for votes.”

12:17 P.M. EST: The Plataforma Juvenil Electoral (PJE), and CESPAD, which each have observers at various voting centers today, issued an alert that party representatives are instructing people how to vote at the Federico Padilla Rubi school in the town of Arenalitos, La Paz department.

12:02 P.M. EST: The International Honduran Diaspora has issued a statement denouncing that few national ID cards (DNI) have been delivered to Hondurans residing in the United States, “where more than 1 million compatriots live.” “Only 12,858 DNI enrollments were made and only 1,090 were delivered,” the group says, noting that consular offices also used the Thanksgiving holiday as an excuse to delay delivery.

The lack of ID cards among Hondurans abroad has been a major concern ahead of the election.

11:52 A.M. EST: An election observer reports: “A Partido Nacional team is ‘capturing’ votes outside Monseñor Cáceres school. Every time a voter comes to the school, they pick them by the arm and push them to their tent. At the tent they are recording their IDs, and voters get instructions. After voting, they receive a mug.”

Outside Monseñor Cáceres school

A voter with a mug he received from National Party members after he voted.

11:43 A.M. EST: How much will dissatisfaction with incumbent president Juan Orlando Hernández affect how people vote today? Much of US reporting on the elections stresses the scandals, corruption, and repression of the Hernández era, and the current government’s failures in improving the living standards of most Honduras, and in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Jared Olson reports for the Los Angeles Times:

Hernandez has left the nation in ruins as tens of thousands of Hondurans flee for better lives in the U.S. and elsewhere. The president’s years in power have been marked by human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, stolen public money, poverty and complicity in drug trafficking at the highest levels of government.

“Juan Orlando is leaving us with a broken country,” said Lenín Laínez, a congressman for the opposition Libre party. “A country in debt, with serious narco-corruption, with high levels of criminality and one of the most unequal populations in Latin America.”

The National Party “has left us with a Honduras where it’s impossible to access quality, free healthcare or education,” said Anabel Melgar, a member of the National Front for Youth in Resistance. “They embezzled the health fund, and thousands of people have died because, with the money from the fund stolen, they handed out [poor-quality] pills.”

This graffiti in Tegucigalpa reflects anti-Hernández sentiment.

Fuera JOH graffiti
(Photo: Burke Bindbeutel)

11:07 A.M. EST: Various purported opinion polls, or images of supposed poll results, are already circulating. Observers caution to be wary of such purported polls, and numerous Honduran media outlets have committed to avoid reporting any such polls until after the CNE makes its first official announcement, which it is supposed to do after 8:00 p.m. Honduras time.

11:01 A.M. EST: Journalist José Luis Granados Ceja is documenting the situation in various voting centers today. These photos illustrate aspects of the voting process, from fingerprint scanning to depositing of ballots:

A voter has their fingerprint scanned. Photo: José Luis Granados Ceja

An election official with ballots. Honduras 2021 elections. Photo: José Luis Granados Ceja

A voter deposits her ballot for president. Honduras 2021 elections. Photo: José Luis Granados Ceja

10:38 A.M. EST: An election observer reports: “The JRV [Voting Table Supervisory Group] where I am stationed [in Distrito Central, Francisco Morazán] opened late (8am instead of 7) because of a problem with the password for the fingerprint ID machine. Voting has been consistent and one of the JRV members told me that she has worked mesas before and it seems like more traffic than before.”

10:15 A.M. EST: The CNE census site is still offline, making it difficult for people to find out where they are supposed to vote, as Honduras Now (which also has a useful podcast episode providing background on this election) explains:

9:51 A.M. EST: Honduran media report long lines at voting centers in Comayagüela (northwest of Tegucigalpa) 
and at the Centro de Educación Básica Gubernamental Dr José Antonio Peraza de la colonia 6 de Mayo del sector Rivera Hernández in San Pedro Sula, where the voting center still had not opened as of 9:00 a.m. EST, an hour after voting was supposed to have started. 

9:42 A.M. EST: Honduras’s major trade association, the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise (COHEP) issued a statement calling on the National Electoral Council (CNE) “to adhere to the constitutional framework, and perform rigorous and transparent work, which guarantees the legitimacy of this electoral process,” and urging “that all relevant information, is communicated in a clear, accurate and timely manner” by the CNE.

9:22 A.M. EST: A number of political candidates, including presidential candidate Xiomara Castro and vice presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla, are voting early. “We set the example of going out to vote early. Honduras needs a real change,” Castro told reporters.

9:13 A.M. EST: Honduran media are reporting late openings of some voting centers, in La Ceiba and la Villa Olímpica in Tegucigalpa where a voting center reportedly opened more than 40 minutes late. Meanwhile, the website of the National Electoral Council (CNE), one of the electoral institutions created as part of reforms following election-rigging in 2017, is experiencing problems.

8:59 A.M. EST: Election observers reportLines at the polls, lots of excitement & lots difficulties with the system that will transmit preliminary results to the CNE center in Tegucigalpa (TREP).” Honduran media and foreign correspondents also are reporting long lines at polling places in some urban areas.

Today, November 28, Hondurans head to the polls for crucial elections amid escalating political violence across the country. Voters will be electing a new president, the entirety of the 128-seat National Congress, every mayor of the country’s 298 municipalities, and over 2000 municipal councilors, as well as 20 representatives to the Central American Parliament.

At the presidential level, the leading contenders are ruling National Party candidate Nasry “Tito” Asfura and Xiomara Castro of the Liberty and Refoundation Party (LIBRE). The most recent polling, from late October (Honduran law forbids polling within one month of scheduled elections) showed Castro with a significant lead over Asfura: 38 to 21 percent, with Liberal Party candidate Yani Rosenthal well behind both.

Honduras has experienced political violence in the run-up to the elections. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights most recently cited 29 political killings. Recent high-profile assassinations include a Liberal Party mayor running for reelection, Francisco Gaitán, and Luis Casaña, a LIBRE Party candidate for municipal councilor who was shot shortly after leaving a campaign event with presidential candidate Xiomara Castro.

Electoral reforms negotiated after the 2017 elections and subsequent protests, but not approved until after party primaries in March of this year, have given rise to hope for a more transparent process. Crucial technical aspects of the electoral process, however — such as the newly implemented fingerprint identification system — are presenting serious challenges. This includes problems stemming from this year’s electoral census and the administration of new identification cards required for voting. According to reports, more than 350,000 Hondurans were still without these new ID cards as of mid-November, including many in the US. Already, the day before the elections, observers reported irregularities, including apparent vote-buying, voter intimidation, and failure the deliver materials and equipment needed to transmit vote results. 

Also a product of the negotiated reforms is the highly political makeup of the National Electoral Council (CNE), whereby each of the three major parties has one voting member in the CNE. Given that the contenders for the presidency are from LIBRE and the National Party, the Liberal Party CNE councilor could act as a potential key swing vote on Sunday night, and after.

Yet many are expressing cautious optimism — including Gustavo Irías, executive director of Honduras’s Center for Democracy Studies (CESPAD) — that Sunday’s elections could signal a turning point following 12 years of crisis since the coup. In order to monitor conditions on the ground during the elections, CESPAD has partnered with US-based human rights organization Global Exchange to deploy dozens of international, and more than 250 national, observers to polling stations across the country.

Read this post for more background and context on Honduras’s 2021 elections.

10:21 P.M. EST: While Libre Party supporters, and opponents of the governing National Party, celebrate, many observers are still voicing caution. While Castro’s lead in the preliminary results appears decisive, if indeed the 16 percent sample is representative of the total vote, it is worth remembering that early results in 2017 also gave the opposition a significant (although much smaller) lead. As our own Alex Main summarized:

After a long, unexplained delay, the TSE announced that Salvador Nasralla ― candidate of the Opposition Alliance Against the Dictatorship ― was in the lead by 5 points with 57 percent of votes counted. But then the electronic vote count was delayed for more than 30 hours. Over the following days, additional “technical failures” occurred. When the count resumed, Nasralla’s lead gradually evaporated and, by late in the day on November 30, Hernández was ahead by 1.5 percentage points.

Considering this precedent, as well as the many irregularities witnessed today (which we have attempted to document on this blog), continued scrutiny of the tabulation process and the official results is warranted. And irregularities should be investigated by credible authorities.

9:52 EST: Announcing preliminary results based on 2,929 presidential actas that comprise 16.01 percent of the total (18,293), the CNE says Libre Party candidate Xiomara Castro obtained 53.4 percent of the vote, with National Party candidate Nasry Asfura second with 34 percent, and Liberal Party candidate Yani Rosenthal third with 9 percent.

The CNE announces preliminary results in Honduras's 2021 elections.

9:38 P.M. EST: CNE President Kelvin Aguirre announced that over 3 million Honduras voted, meaning voter participation of about 62 percent. Watch the CNE press conference underway here.

9:16 P.M. EST: An exit poll from CESPAD, and another reported by right-wing outlet La Tribuna, give Xiomara Castro a decisive lead.

8:38 P.M. EST: Scattered reports of ongoing Libre presence at voting centers, and diminishing National Party presence, continue. The CNE is supposed to announce preliminary results at 8:00 p.m. Honduras time (9:00 p.m. EST).

CORRECTION: 8:26 P.M. EST: Honduras Now reported how the disenfranchisement and chaos at [one JRV] at the Escuela Republica de Panamá in Buenos Aires, Tegucigalpa concluded:

8:15 P.M. EST: Election observer Burke Bindbeutel sends this photo of presidential ballot counting at the Escuela Republica de Panamá in Buenos Aires, Tegucigalpa. Many voters there reportedly were unable to cast ballots today (see below).

Counting presidential ballots at the the Escuela Republica de Panamá in barrio Buenos Aires Tegucigalpa. Photo: Burke Bindbeutel

7:59 P.M. EST: The US government-funded non-profit organization Association for a More Just Society has told the media it too is concerned by many irregularities today, including that people with invalid identity cards being allowed to vote, ballots lacking stamps put in ballot boxes, and “non-application of indelible ink to voters or inclusion of deceased persons in the electoral roll.” 

7:49 P.M. EST: Honduran national and well-known professor Suyapa Portillo Tweeted earlier this evening that voting was “non-operational” at the consulate in Los Angeles, CA, another example of impediments to voting in the US (see below).

7:37 P.M. EST: An election observer at Instituto España Jesus Milla Silva in Colonia Kennedy, Tegucigalpa reports “Crowds rush the polling site after an onlooker says they saw a stack of IDs during the vote count.”

7:26 P.M. EST: Manuel Zelaya, former president and possibly future first gentleman, announced earlier that the Opposition Alliance will hold a press conference at 8:00 p.m. Honduras time, the same time the CNE is expected to make its first statements after the conclusion of the election.

7:18 P.M. EST: Honduras Now reports:

 

7:15 P.M. EST: An election observer at the CEB Monseñor Jacobo Cáceres in Suyapa, Tegucigalpa reports they are “In a vote count preceding calmly and orderly. The public is standing outside the classroom and watching through the windows as the JRV LIBRE and PN members each look at hold up the ballot for the people outside to see.”

6:19 P.M. EST: The PJE and CESPAD have issued a new alert denouncing obstruction of the voting center at the Escuela Republica de Panamá, Buenos Aires, Tegucigalpa, and apparent conflict between electoral authorities and voters there (see below).

6:12 P.M. EST: Election observers documented the lack of accessibility for disabled people to vote at the Escuela Republica de Panamá, Buenos Aires, Tegucigalpa.

6:07 P.M. EST: Honduran media reported at 6:00 ET that CNE president Kelvin Aguirre said voting will be extended for an extra hour at voting centers where there is unanimous agreement.

5:59 P.M. EST: As voting centers prepare to close, election observers talk to media.

An election observer talks to media

Election observer talking to media

5:42 P.M. EST: The CNE statement denouncing an attack on its web server also calls on candidates and media to abstain from publicly (and illegally) declaring victory or other information about election results, in an apparent reference to the National Party press conference earlier today. The CNE also said that voting should be extended so that the last person still in line will be able to vote, in accordance with Article 265 of the Electoral Law, and that the fingerprint registry shows that 36 percent of eligible voters came out to vote today.

5:19 P.M. EST: Contra Corriente’s Jennifer Avila reported at 4:55 p.m. that the CNE claimed there had been an attack on its web server. The site has been offline throughout the day (see below).

5:16 P.M. EST: An election observer reports: “Ruinas Copan 2801: One hour before closing time. Just over 2/3 of the possible votes are in. Things have pretty much ground to a halt. There are no people outside waiting to vote.”

5:15 P.M. EST: National Party leader Fernando Aduray is blaming alleged incidents of “violence” and disorder on the Libre Party, whom he said want to “generate chaos and anarchy” after learning of the adverse primary results at noon” [presumably the National Party’s much-condemned televised press conference declaring victory]. Aduray also linked the Libre Party with “communism in Venezuela and the Sao Paulo Forum.”

5:05 P.M. EST: The PJE and CESPAD have issued a statement denouncing the “threat of fraud” in public statements made by David Chávez, of the central committee of the National Party, declaring victory before voting has concluded. (See below.)

5:00 P.M. EST: Honduran newspaper El País reportsProblems with some people who are not on the voting lists at the Paz Barahona School in San Pedro Sula.”

4:40 P.M. EST: Election observers at a voting center in in Buenos Aires, Tegucigalpa documented the tense scene outside as party representatives worked to determine a more efficient system to allow the many people waiting, for hours, outside, to vote, while inside there are reportedly JRVs with few voters waiting.

4:30 P.M. EST: Just before 4:00 EST, Nuestra Red and Global Exchange, which both have many observers on the ground in Honduras today, denounced the “buying and selling [of] votes in the department of Francisco Morazán through tickets issued by political activists.”

3:57 P.M. EST: An election observer in Buenos Aires, Tegucigalpa, reports: “Allegations at the Buenos Aires voting center that there is a guy in a blue hat (with a B on it) collaborating with police to only let in people voting for the Partido Nacional.”

A man in a blue hat with a letter B on it allegedly works with police to only allow NP voters into a voting center.

3:41 P.M. EST: An election observer documented very long lines outside a voting center in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Tegucigalpa. “A woman in line told me that they had already been in line for two hours, and that the line isn’t moving at all.  She has worked the polls before, and it’s never been like this.” 

3:33 P.M. EST: An election observer in Lepaera, Lempira sent this photo from inside a voting center:

A voting center in Lepaera, Lempira.

3:22 P.M. EST: Honduran media report that the voting center at the Fraternidad de Villanueva school finally received their technological kit at around 2:00 p.m. local time. Voting center workers had been trying to get the kits since 9:00 a.m. local time.

3:18 P.M. EST: Independent media organization Report Without Fear notes that some voting table supervisors in San Pedro Sula are not stamping ballots prior to depositing them.

3:01 P.M. EST: An election observer documented a lull in voting at Monseñor Cáceres at 2:37 P.M. EST.

"A lull in voting here at Monseñor Cáceres"

2:39 P.M. EST: Honduran TV network HCH broadcast a press conference by governing National Party representatives declaring victory, some four hours before voting centers close. This has drawn condemnation from the Progressive International, among others, who see it as  an “effort to disinform voters, dissuade participation, and endanger democracy in Honduras.” EU Electoral Observation Mission head Željana Zovko has expressed concern about political parties claiming victory already.

2:19 P.M. EST: Right-wing newspaper site La Tribuna posted an article earlier citing the defense secretary as claiming that the armed forces delivered election materials to “each designated place,”  “even in the most remote areas of the country,” But numerous election observer and media reports have shown that this is not true.

2:12 P.M. EST: The CNE census site, which voters rely on to find out their voting location, continues to be offline, drawing complaints and condemnation.

1:44 P.M. EST: The PJE and CESPAD have issued a new alert about election irregularities, including that “at least 17  Voting Table Supervisory Groups” in 5 departments did not receive their technological kits to process votes, that some Voting Table Supervisory Groups do not have equipment to collect fingerprints, and that there are reports of party propaganda inside of 19 voting centers.

1:32 P.M. EST: El Pulso reports, with video, that armed forces closed a voting center in Tela, Atlántida, after a conflict broke out there. 

1:28 P.M. EST: An election observer reports: “At a polling site in Tegucigalpa, a scuffle broke out amid complaints of people taking photos of their ballots in exchange for 5000 Lempiras.”

12:47 P.M. EST: Televicentro HN reported at 12 noon ET that voting kits had finally arrived in Choluteca and Siguatepeque, four hours after voting was supposed to have started.

12:43 P.M. EST: The PJE and CESPAD have issued an alert about election observers being hindered from entering a voting center: “In the Saúl Bueso Castañeda school, a voting center in the municipality of Santa Rita in the department of Copán, the secretary of the Municipal Electoral Council impeded the access of accredited observers of the Youth Electoral Platform into the voting center.”

12:39 P.M. EST: Peninsula 360 Press reports on vote buying, and delays. They interviewed Marco Castillo of Global Exchange, who told the outlet earlier, “We have been observing and, above all, what they are reporting to me is that the whole process is super delayed here in the Colón area…” He also told Peninsula 360 that yesterday they documented a federal government official wearing  a cap promoting a National Party political candidate while making payments for a social program “in the same school” that is serving as a voting center today.

12:24 P.M. EST: Independent media outlet Contra Corriente reports that CESPAD’s Lucía Vijil has witnessed “political patronage” by the ruling National Party, with “state resources being used in voting centers, for example, to buy food in exchange for votes.”

12:17 P.M. EST: The Plataforma Juvenil Electoral (PJE), and CESPAD, which each have observers at various voting centers today, issued an alert that party representatives are instructing people how to vote at the Federico Padilla Rubi school in the town of Arenalitos, La Paz department.

12:02 P.M. EST: The International Honduran Diaspora has issued a statement denouncing that few national ID cards (DNI) have been delivered to Hondurans residing in the United States, “where more than 1 million compatriots live.” “Only 12,858 DNI enrollments were made and only 1,090 were delivered,” the group says, noting that consular offices also used the Thanksgiving holiday as an excuse to delay delivery.

The lack of ID cards among Hondurans abroad has been a major concern ahead of the election.

11:52 A.M. EST: An election observer reports: “A Partido Nacional team is ‘capturing’ votes outside Monseñor Cáceres school. Every time a voter comes to the school, they pick them by the arm and push them to their tent. At the tent they are recording their IDs, and voters get instructions. After voting, they receive a mug.”

Outside Monseñor Cáceres school

A voter with a mug he received from National Party members after he voted.

11:43 A.M. EST: How much will dissatisfaction with incumbent president Juan Orlando Hernández affect how people vote today? Much of US reporting on the elections stresses the scandals, corruption, and repression of the Hernández era, and the current government’s failures in improving the living standards of most Honduras, and in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Jared Olson reports for the Los Angeles Times:

Hernandez has left the nation in ruins as tens of thousands of Hondurans flee for better lives in the U.S. and elsewhere. The president’s years in power have been marked by human rights violations, extrajudicial killings, stolen public money, poverty and complicity in drug trafficking at the highest levels of government.

“Juan Orlando is leaving us with a broken country,” said Lenín Laínez, a congressman for the opposition Libre party. “A country in debt, with serious narco-corruption, with high levels of criminality and one of the most unequal populations in Latin America.”

The National Party “has left us with a Honduras where it’s impossible to access quality, free healthcare or education,” said Anabel Melgar, a member of the National Front for Youth in Resistance. “They embezzled the health fund, and thousands of people have died because, with the money from the fund stolen, they handed out [poor-quality] pills.”

This graffiti in Tegucigalpa reflects anti-Hernández sentiment.

Fuera JOH graffiti
(Photo: Burke Bindbeutel)

11:07 A.M. EST: Various purported opinion polls, or images of supposed poll results, are already circulating. Observers caution to be wary of such purported polls, and numerous Honduran media outlets have committed to avoid reporting any such polls until after the CNE makes its first official announcement, which it is supposed to do after 8:00 p.m. Honduras time.

11:01 A.M. EST: Journalist José Luis Granados Ceja is documenting the situation in various voting centers today. These photos illustrate aspects of the voting process, from fingerprint scanning to depositing of ballots:

A voter has their fingerprint scanned. Photo: José Luis Granados Ceja

An election official with ballots. Honduras 2021 elections. Photo: José Luis Granados Ceja

A voter deposits her ballot for president. Honduras 2021 elections. Photo: José Luis Granados Ceja

10:38 A.M. EST: An election observer reports: “The JRV [Voting Table Supervisory Group] where I am stationed [in Distrito Central, Francisco Morazán] opened late (8am instead of 7) because of a problem with the password for the fingerprint ID machine. Voting has been consistent and one of the JRV members told me that she has worked mesas before and it seems like more traffic than before.”

10:15 A.M. EST: The CNE census site is still offline, making it difficult for people to find out where they are supposed to vote, as Honduras Now (which also has a useful podcast episode providing background on this election) explains:

9:51 A.M. EST: Honduran media report long lines at voting centers in Comayagüela (northwest of Tegucigalpa) 
and at the Centro de Educación Básica Gubernamental Dr José Antonio Peraza de la colonia 6 de Mayo del sector Rivera Hernández in San Pedro Sula, where the voting center still had not opened as of 9:00 a.m. EST, an hour after voting was supposed to have started. 

9:42 A.M. EST: Honduras’s major trade association, the Honduran Council of Private Enterprise (COHEP) issued a statement calling on the National Electoral Council (CNE) “to adhere to the constitutional framework, and perform rigorous and transparent work, which guarantees the legitimacy of this electoral process,” and urging “that all relevant information, is communicated in a clear, accurate and timely manner” by the CNE.

9:22 A.M. EST: A number of political candidates, including presidential candidate Xiomara Castro and vice presidential candidate Salvador Nasralla, are voting early. “We set the example of going out to vote early. Honduras needs a real change,” Castro told reporters.

9:13 A.M. EST: Honduran media are reporting late openings of some voting centers, in La Ceiba and la Villa Olímpica in Tegucigalpa where a voting center reportedly opened more than 40 minutes late. Meanwhile, the website of the National Electoral Council (CNE), one of the electoral institutions created as part of reforms following election-rigging in 2017, is experiencing problems.

8:59 A.M. EST: Election observers reportLines at the polls, lots of excitement & lots difficulties with the system that will transmit preliminary results to the CNE center in Tegucigalpa (TREP).” Honduran media and foreign correspondents also are reporting long lines at polling places in some urban areas.

Today, November 28, Hondurans head to the polls for crucial elections amid escalating political violence across the country. Voters will be electing a new president, the entirety of the 128-seat National Congress, every mayor of the country’s 298 municipalities, and over 2000 municipal councilors, as well as 20 representatives to the Central American Parliament.

At the presidential level, the leading contenders are ruling National Party candidate Nasry “Tito” Asfura and Xiomara Castro of the Liberty and Refoundation Party (LIBRE). The most recent polling, from late October (Honduran law forbids polling within one month of scheduled elections) showed Castro with a significant lead over Asfura: 38 to 21 percent, with Liberal Party candidate Yani Rosenthal well behind both.

Honduras has experienced political violence in the run-up to the elections. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights most recently cited 29 political killings. Recent high-profile assassinations include a Liberal Party mayor running for reelection, Francisco Gaitán, and Luis Casaña, a LIBRE Party candidate for municipal councilor who was shot shortly after leaving a campaign event with presidential candidate Xiomara Castro.

Electoral reforms negotiated after the 2017 elections and subsequent protests, but not approved until after party primaries in March of this year, have given rise to hope for a more transparent process. Crucial technical aspects of the electoral process, however — such as the newly implemented fingerprint identification system — are presenting serious challenges. This includes problems stemming from this year’s electoral census and the administration of new identification cards required for voting. According to reports, more than 350,000 Hondurans were still without these new ID cards as of mid-November, including many in the US. Already, the day before the elections, observers reported irregularities, including apparent vote-buying, voter intimidation, and failure the deliver materials and equipment needed to transmit vote results. 

Also a product of the negotiated reforms is the highly political makeup of the National Electoral Council (CNE), whereby each of the three major parties has one voting member in the CNE. Given that the contenders for the presidency are from LIBRE and the National Party, the Liberal Party CNE councilor could act as a potential key swing vote on Sunday night, and after.

Yet many are expressing cautious optimism — including Gustavo Irías, executive director of Honduras’s Center for Democracy Studies (CESPAD) — that Sunday’s elections could signal a turning point following 12 years of crisis since the coup. In order to monitor conditions on the ground during the elections, CESPAD has partnered with US-based human rights organization Global Exchange to deploy dozens of international, and more than 250 national, observers to polling stations across the country.

Read this post for more background and context on Honduras’s 2021 elections.

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